The trade for Andrew Benintendi was supposed to be a jolt to the Yankees' system, a burst of energy for a lineup that seemed a bit limp against the Mets in a pair of defeats in a charged-up Subway Series atmosphere at Citi Field.
But Benintendi’s debut at Yankee Stadium on Thursday night was more fizzle than sizzle. The former Red Sox World Series champion from 2018 went 0-for-4 against the Royals, the team that traded him on Wednesday night (and the team whose hotel room he slept in even after he became a Yankee).
Benintendi made the first out of the bottom of the ninth inning. Aaron Judge was up next, and he continued his storybook, MVP-caliber season with a first-pitch, walk-off home run into the visiting bullpen in left-centerfield to give the Yankees a 1-0 win over the Royals.
Just like that, Judge reminded everyone that the biggest jolts in this Yankees season probably aren’t coming from Benintendi or whoever else Brian Cashman imports before Tuesday’s trade deadline, but from the man who turned down a $230 million contract extension before the season to bet on himself and see if he could do better.
Judge isn’t the type of person to say “How you like me now?” He is the type of person who will never let the emotions of the moment force him away from a now-practiced answer when someone asks him if his heart will always be in New York as he approaches free agency.
After his 39th home run sent the crowd of 43,836 into a frenzy, Judge was asked in an on-field interview about coming up big in the biggest moments. He said something about how the atmosphere with the fans in Yankee Stadium is so awesome that he can’t help but be pumped up.
But that love affair with Yankees fans only goes so far. Asked in the quieter postgame clubhouse if his “emotional connection” with the fans will be a factor when it’s time to talk contract again, Judge said:
“Yeah, I’ve been here six years now, came through the system. We’ve got a deep connection. Some good highs, some definite lows. But I know I’ll definitely enjoy our time here. If it ends this year or if it doesn’t, I’ll soak up every memory like tonight.”
Depending on how you read them, Judge’s words could seem innocuous or could cut through you like a knife through butter, especially if you’re a Yankees fan who is worried about the Judge’s Chambers relocating to San Francisco or Los Angeles or (gasp) Fenway Park or (another gasp) Citi Field in 2023.
Every time Judge does something remarkable such as end a scoreless game with a walk-off homer, his price goes up. And the realization that this could be his final year in pinstripes can’t help but hang over all of Judge’s exploits, from here to October.
The trade for Benintendi actually may increase the chance Judge stays if it blocks the Yankees from trading for Juan Soto (which was probably not that likely anyway).
If the Yankees do expend the prospect haul it would take to get Soto, they probably would have to consider giving him a contract worth a half a billion dollars down the road. The only way to make that work would be to let Judge walk as a free agent.
But Soto wasn’t in the Bronx on Thursday. Benintendi was.
Manager Aaron Boone was so jazzed by the trade late Wednesday night that he broke out one of his greatest hits minutes after the Yankees were swept in the Subway Series, with Judge going 0-for-5 with three strikeouts and getting bested by Max Scherzer in two big spots.
"We’ve got savages in the lineup,” Boone said.
Boone strayed a little from his infamous “my guys are [expletive] savages in that [expletive] box” rant to an umpire in 2019, but the sentiment was the same.
Benintendi may yet become a savage for the Yankees. The biggest savage of all is still Judge, and one ninth-inning swing reminded Yankee Stadium of that on Thursday night.