Booing Aaron Judge in the Bronx? Seriously?
The sentiment wasn’t unanimous. It sounded as if the majority of fans among Friday’s sellout crowd of 47,535 at the Stadium somehow remained in possession of their sanity during the Yankees’ messy 4-2, 10-inning loss to the Guardians, a sloppy defeat that tied up the Division Series at 1-1 before it packed up for Cleveland.
But there was a vocal minority plenty loud enough to be noticed in the seventh inning after Judge’s fourth strikeout of the game, bringing his total to seven Ks for the series, with only a walk and groundout to break up the dismal monotony.
I’ll admit I had to ask someone seated beside me in the press box just to double-check that I wasn’t mistaking the Judge jeers for some stray Boone chant or feedback from the Stadium’s ear-busting sound system.
Nope. The boos actually happened, all right. After carrying the Yankees with an MVP-caliber season that conjured up Yankees legends on a daily basis, and hitting No. 62 to lay claim to what many consider the authentic, drug-free home run record, Judge got the Joey Gallo treatment Friday.
On his home turf. In the playoffs.
“It’s the Bronx, man,” was manager Aaron Boone’s reaction.
We get what Boone is trying to do. Championship standards, high expectations, expensive tickets. Whatever. That’s for the guys who can’t handle wearing pinstripes. We’ve seen dozens of them.
Judge doesn’t deserve to be dragged down to that level, and the Bronx should know the difference. Harassing Judge is for Boston, Houston, maybe Flushing. Not his home borough.
As you would expect, Judge shrugged off the boos when asked about them afterward. But remember — saying all the right things publicly is not the same as truly believing them. Was he surprised nonetheless?
“Not at all — it happens,” he said. “It’s happened many times through my career here and there’s nothing I can do. I got to play better. That’s what it comes down to. Didn’t do the job tonight. Especially as a leadoff hitter, man, I got to get on base. I got to make something happen on the basepaths and I didn’t do that tonight.”
For the record, Judge has literally been a zero (0-for-7) during the two-game Bronx split with the feisty Guardians and has looked terrible flailing away at the plate. By our count, he has seen 45 pitches, with 10 swings-and-misses, another seven taken for strikes and 12 foul balls. If that seems like too granular of a breakdown, the startling lack of contact is noteworthy — he’s put only one ball in play, Friday’s ninth-inning groundout to third base.
It wasn’t that long ago that fans groaned in disappointment whenever Judge failed to clear the fences and had to settle for a 100-mph double to the gap instead. In the first two games of this series, he hasn’t even put a ball in the air, never mind reach the warning track.
During his pursuit of No. 62, every Judge at-bat was a Maris-or-Bust mentality, and would it be all that shocking if he has to recalibrate in switching to playoff mode?
Judge didn’t want to blame the extended layoff (two games in nine days since the end of the regular season) for this mini-skid, but he admitted to a need for some swing maintenance before Saturday’s Game 3 at Progressive Field.
“It comes down to timing,” he said. “If the timing is a little off, you’re going to be swinging at pitches you don’t normally swing at. And the ones that you can hit, you’re just a tick late or you’re out in front a little bit. Just work on that timing and I think we’ll be good to go.”
Maybe the Guardians deserve some credit, too. Judge is 2-for-37 with 27 strikeouts against the Cleveland franchise in the postseason dating to 2017, and that trend obviously can’t continue if the Yankees plan to advance beyond this round.
In Tuesday’s Game 1, Harrison Bader and Anthony Rizzo went deep to deliver the 4-1 victory. On Friday, Giancarlo Stanton smacked a two-run homer in the first inning that held up until Amed Rosario’s tying 416-foot blast in the fifth.
From there, the Yankees’ bats vanished, and Judge was just as invisible as everyone else in the lineup. It’s hard to make a 6-7 MVP disappear, but that’s what the Guardians have done.
“The series ain’t over,” Stanton said. “It’s a small sample size. He’s got time. And it’s over now, so that don’t matter. We’ve got to win two out of three and he’s going to help us do so.”
Or as Nestor Cortes put it, “He’ll come around. He’s Aaron Judge.”
Evidently, far too many Bronx blowhards forgot that Friday. Judge certainly wasn’t himself in the first two games at the Stadium, and the Yankees are going to need the real No. 99 to show up this weekend in Cleveland.
If not, and this playoff run comes to an end, Friday could end up being Judge’s last game in pinstripes. If that becomes a reality, save the boos for then.