Among the many questions that followed the Yankees to Fenway Park for the start of the second half, two in particular stuck out above the others.
Was it possible for Joe Girardi’s overachieving crew to regain the mojo that had it leading the AL East for 56 days before the All-Star break? And could Aaron Judge continue his Ruthian assault on the rest of the league?
This past weekend may have supplied a few answers. While the Yankees displayed some tremendous grit during their Boston marathon, splitting a four-game series that required a grueling 43 innings to complete, Judge had a rougher time, supplying evidence to those who believe he might have been weary from the heavy lifting he did during his All-Star sojourn to Miami.
And for the people who did think the Home Run Derby was a mistake, that Judge would have been better off with a breather than a crown, he offered his rebuttal Sunday night in the eighth inning of Game 2.
With a runner on base, Judge smoked a 95-mph fastball from David Price deep toward the triangle in centerfield at Fenway Park, only to see Jackie Bradley Jr. make a spectacular leaping catch, reaching over the fence to pull it back from the Red Sox bullpen, not far from the 420 sign.
“Just hit it to the wrong part of the park,” Judge said, “to the wrong centerfielder.”
According to Statcast, the drive traveled 411 feet, with an exit velocity of 107.5 mph, and 94 percent of the time lands for a hit. Just not this time, not for Judge, who was victimized by some bad luck all weekend in finishing 1-for-18 with six strikeouts. Earlier, he ripped a laser to rightfield, but directly at Mookie Betts.
“I’m happy with the swings I took,” he said. “I just didn’t get the results.”
Even though he had only one infield single, a slow dribbler in Game 1, to show for his four-game stay in Boston, Judge did convince us that any worries about a Derby hangover are unwarranted. For about 99 percent of major-leaguers, we’d write this off as being human. But with the bar already set at a ridiculous level for Judge, some would suggest he expended too much energy with last Monday’s fireworks show at Marlins Park.
The Derby looked so effortless for Judge, and overall he crushed 43 homers, including 23 in the first round. Many went more than 450 feet, four sailed beyond 500 and at least one scraped the roof of the retractable dome.
That can be exhausting, and the Derby has claimed a few victims in its history. Bobby Abreu (2005) and David Wright (2006) famously suffered Derby hangovers, with their homer production diving after the break. For that reason, Bryce Harper and other high-profile sluggers have refused to participate.
When Judge was reminded between Sunday’s games that some players complained of fatigue afterward, he nodded.
“I could see that,” he said. “But I’m good. I didn’t look tired in the Derby, did I?”
Judge tried to shrug off that baggage, but in the public’s view, he’s not allowed to have a routine slump anymore. He’s too big to fail. And any extended hiccup is enough to make people nervous, aside from the ones who tend to know better.
“He kind of went through a tough stretch for the first time this year,” Girardi said. “It’s going to happen. But I feel pretty good about his at-bats and it’s going to get him back on track.”
It’s the fourth time this season Judge has gone six consecutive games without a home run. His batting average also has slipped from .339 on June 16 to its current .313, and his OPS has tumbled from 1.160 to 1.113 in that span.
Even Judge could appreciate the irony in the fact that his only hit of the weekend was that 30-foot roller. For a guy who belted a 513-foot homer in the Derby and owns five of the top exit velos this season — including the record of 121.1 mph — seeing the ball plod along at snail speed was almost funny.
“I’ll take anything,” he said, smiling. “It’s a line drive in the books, though.”