HOUSTON — Aaron Judge always pauses before answering a question. You could set the second hand on your watch to it.
So when he gives an answer, it’s meant to be thoughtful. That’s why you have to give some weight to what Judge said when asked after Game 5 of the American League Championship Series if he has been impressed by what teammate Greg Bird has been doing at the plate lately.
“I’m not impressed,” Judge said. “That’s Greg Bird. That’s what I expect out of him. That’s what he’s shown me through the minor leagues and the short time he’s been up here. That’s Greg Bird, man. He’s a fantastic hitter, probably our best hitter, and he’s proving it right now in the postseason.”
Is Greg Bird the Yankees’ best hitter? You wouldn’t have known it from his injury-plagued regular season, when he hit .190 in 48 games.
Judge remembers that Bird was the Yankees’ No. 3 hitter on Opening Day. Bird doesn’t get the fanfare of Judge or Gary Sanchez, but it’s easy to envision the first baseman as a lefthanded counterpart to the two righty sluggers for years to come.
Best hitter? Not yet. But in the postseason, Bird leads the Yankees in on-base plus slugging percentage (OPS) at 1.015 entering Friday night’s ALCS Game 6.
The Yankees are in position to advance to the World Series in part because of Bird’s good work this postseason. He has had two of the biggest hits so far, both off top-notch lefthanders.
Bird homered off Andrew Miller for the only run in the Yankees’ 1-0 victory over the Indians in Game 3 of the Division Series. He singled home the first run of ALCS Game 5 on Wednesday night against Yankees nemesis Dallas Keuchel. The Yankees went on to a 5-0 victory.
“I appreciate playing,” said Bird, who had ankle surgery on July 18 and returned on Aug. 26. “I don’t take it for granted any day. So for me, I’m just enjoying it right now, one day at a time, one pitch at a time.”
Overall, Bird is batting .265 with three home runs and six RBIs in 11 games in the playoffs. Judge is at .200-3-10 and Sanchez is at .200-3-8 after homering on Wednesday.
So who’s the best? It’s a question Yankees fans can ponder for years to come.
We asked Game 6 starter Luis Severino.
“I don’t know,” he said. “I think Sanchez is good. Judge is great. They’re hitting good. Right now I think Judge is hitting great. I can’t choose right now, you know? I don’t know which one is going to be better. But I hope [Friday] the three guys get the job done.”