Boston — Aaron Judge was supposed to be the one to fear Fenway Park, with the seductive allure of the Green Monster, tempting righthanded sluggers to abandon their disciplined approach and hack away in the hope of reaching Lansdowne Street on the other side.
Instead, it was the Red Sox’s ancient stadium that wound up bruised by Judge’s first pro visit last night, Maybe with a new dent or two, after he collided with a retaining wall, then flipped past the three-foot barrier, heels over head, to make a gutsy catch that astonished his teammates. Seeing his 6-7 frame go flying like a pint-sized gymnast into the first few rows was a frightening spectacle.
“Of course I was ,” Brett Gardner said. “That’s a big boy to be piled up on top of the nachos and peanuts.”
Luckily for everyone involved, the seats directly in Judge’s path were empty. Otherwise, there could have been more damage done, and probably to Sox fans — not the hulking rightfielder. Despite the high-speed crash, Judge sprung up, evidently unharmed.
“I feel fine,” said Judge, who also ripped a two-run homer and scored a third to power the Yankees to a 3-1 victory. “The adrenaline was pumping so, I didn’t really feel much going in there. I was trying to make a play for Seve.”
And the Green Monster? Well, Judge steered clear of the obvious target and hit his seventh home run the hard way, taking Sox starter Rick Porcello, the AL’s defending Cy Young champ, over the big lawn in rightfield, with the ball finally touching down in the Yankees’ bullpen.
Not a bad 25th birthday, right? It’s already becoming that kind of a remarkable season for Judge, who joined Yogi Berra and Roger Maris as the only Yankees to homer at Fenway on their birthday. Judge returned to Yawkey Way for the first time since a Cape Cod League scouting showcase in 2012 — he missed last year’s trip with an oblique strain — and certainly enjoyed his party.
“Maybe my 26th might be better,” Judge said. “I don’t know.”
That’s a tall order. Judge’s two-run blast was the game’s difference-maker, obviously, and he also scored the third run after a walk and Greg Bird’s RBI single. Thanks to MLB’s Statcast, we know Judge’s homer exploded at 110 mph off his bat — impressive for mere mortals, routine for him — and traveled 385 feet through the soggy Fenway air. Despite his maturation as a hitter, Judge had pulled five of his previous six home runs, with the other one rocketing off the glass-encased centerfield club at Yankee Stadium.
Porcello’s first pitch was an 89-mph, two-seam fastball that rode in on Judge, who basically punched it to the opposite-field. With his muscle, however, Judge was able to slice a high, twisting rainbow over the wall, bending like a weekend duffer’s tee shot. That padded Judge’s team lead to seven homers, and a club-high 15 RBIs through 18 games.
“He’s been doing it all year long,” Girardi said. “It doesn’t matter where he hits them. If he puts the barrel of the bat to it, it’s going to go out.”
The fearlessness Judge displayed in chasing down Xander Bogaerts’ foul pop in the third inning — and the acrobatic moves required to haul it in — made for an equally impressive highlight. With one out, and Marco Hernandez at second base, Bogaerts lofted a fly ball headed for the seats along the rightfield line, about 50 feet or so from the Pesky Pole.
Judge took off on a full sprint and never hesitated, reaching up for the ball as the short wall knocked his knees out from under him. Judge made the catch as he cartwheeled into the seats, landing awkwardly as he briefly disappeared among the plastic and concrete.
“It’s an important game and he risked his body,” said Girardi, who had flashbacks of Carlos Beltran’s scary 2014 dive at the Trop. “He plays hard.”
When Judge climbed back to his feet, he showed the ball in his bare hand, initially causing the umpires to rule he didn’t have possession. But the call was soon overturned when replay clearly showed it nestled in the webbing of his glove.
“He’s capable of more than just hitting balls a long way,” Gardner said.
And Fenway Park was a witness to it all Wednesday night.