Aaron Judge and Brett Gardner, fresh off their forearm-bashing, two-homer-apiece Sunday against the Tigers, saved some flexing for the clubhouse.
When the 2018 Yankees — the team that smashed the Mariners’ 21-year-old record by swatting 267 homers — were brought up, both pretty much had this to say: Hold my Gatorade.
“Oh, definitely,” Judge said. “With this whole team healthy, we’re going to crush the record that we set last year. We’ve got a good team, a lot of guys that can make a lot of solid contact, a lot of big boys who can make solid contact and make it go.
“We’re a team that’s primed and ready to do that.”
Any time a mountain of a player like the 6-7, 282-pound Judge talks about crushing things, you tend to believe him. That size, in the batter’s box, isn’t for show. The Yankees hit six homers in Sunday’s 7-1 smackdown of the Tigers at Steinbrenner Field, and Judge, as usual, was the one who left onlookers in amazement.
Judge spends most of batting practice smoking line drives to the opposite field, so it wasn’t surprising that he put two over the rightfield wall. The second, however, took a route that few hitters are able to create by sheer strength. He drilled a solid 2-iron shot that had just enough carry to get above the head of the retreating Victor Reyes, who managed to stick up his glove just in time for the ball to carom off the leather into the seats.
“I was just trying to dunk the ball over the second baseman’s head and I got my barrel on it,” he said, smiling. “I’m really trying to save those for the season.”
He needn’t worry. As Aaron Boone said, “He can sneeze them out of there to right.”
The Yankees pounded their way to the record last year even though Judge missed nearly two months with a broken wrist and Gary Sanchez played only 89 games because of injuries.
Sanchez also went deep Sunday in only his second start since offseason shoulder surgery. He hit 33 homers in 2017 but supplied only 18 last year. Sanchez going deep is a welcome sight for a team that loves the overkill of a catcher who can rake.
“Gary knows he can hit,” Boone said. “But it’s always nice to get some results out of the way.”
The same goes for Gardner, also coming off a personally disappointing year. Conventional wisdom suggests that Gardner, now 35, wore down in the second half, a perception he doesn’t entirely agree with. But the Yankees, valuing his leadership and Bronx pedigree, paid him $9.5 million to come back this year.
To see him go toe-to-toe with Judge in Sunday’s long-drive contest, followed by the trash-talking, was to witness the elements Gardner brings to the table. When asked about the Yankees busting the 2018 homer mark, he wasn’t shy about making predictions.
“We’re going to hit more this year,” said Gardner, whose 12 home runs last season were nine fewer than his career high in ’17. “I expect us to have a better offense and score more runs.”
When the conversation turned to Judge and Giancarlo Stanton, Gardner couldn’t help but antagonize them.
“I give both of them a hard time, telling them anybody can hit 50,” he said. “So we’ll see. Those guys, whether it’s 42 or 62, we all know what they’re capable of.”
Judge was asked if 70 is a possibility for him or Stanton.
“I’m trying to have a healthy, full season,” Judge said. “We’ll see where the numbers are at. I’ll put my money on [Stanton] getting 70-something before me.”
Told of Gardner’s big talk, Judge laughed.
“After he hits two, man, he starts running his mouth,” he said. “Anybody can pull the ball. Try going oppo.”
The fun, and the flexing, have only just begun.
The Yankees believe they can surpass their previous top home run-hitting seasons:
Year HRs Team Leader(s)
2018 267 Stanton 38
2012 245 Granderson 43
2009 244 Teixeira 39
2004 242 Rodriguez/Sheffield 36
2017 241 Judge 52
1961 240 Maris 61