This is the kind of season this is for the Yankees: On a day when they essentially had nothing, they wound up getting really something. They got that much closer to having the real Aaron Judge back.
In other words, watch out. He had four hits and made a listless offensive game edge-of-your-seat-interesting at the very end of a 2-1 loss to the Blue Jays. With two outs in the ninth, he drove in the only run with the hardest of his hard ground-ball smashes.
“We’re getting there,” he said after tying his career high for hits in a game. “Still a little rust coming off the four days. But we’re getting close.”
We — that is all of us, not the colloquial “we” he used to describe himself —all know that Judge would not have had four days off if he had not missed 54 games with a left oblique strain. He most likely would have been in the All-Star Game, taking his place as one of the sport’s biggest personalities.
It is not that anyone forgot about him, but the truth is he just has not been at the heart of the run that has given the Yankees the major leagues’ best record entering Saturday's game. Four-for-five in the Saturday boxscore says that truth is about to change. Now that he is back, he still is the Yankees’ go-to guy, their de facto spokesman. He’s still Aaron Judge. And this is still his team.
“Just making sure I’m swinging at the right pitches, staying aggressive. I feel like I was a little more aggressive today, and when I’m aggressive in the zone, good things happen,” he said.
Aaron Boone thought he saw it coming on July 5 when Judge hit two home runs against Tampa Bay, including the go-ahead shot in the 11th inning. The manager likes what he sees now even better.
“Here, these last two games, I feel like he’s really close. I feel like he’s seeing the ball really well, he’s seeing the ball the way he wants to. I mean, he was terrific today and actually probably should have been on all five times,” Boone said. “So a great day by him and good to see him start, I think, really lock in.”
The Yankees believed Judge should have walked instead of getting called out on strikes on a 3-and-2 pitch in the seventh. “I was just upset because that could be the ballgame right there. I walk right there and [Luke] Voit comes up and hits a three-run homer, it could be a different story,” Judge said. “I voiced my opinion, but I can’t get tossed in that situation because I knew I’d be coming up in the ninth and have another shot at it.”
That’s just how it worked out. The most exciting moment of the game occurred in the ninth after Aaron Hicks drew a leadoff walk, DJ LeMahieu hit a two-out single and the 6-7 figure wearing No. 99 strode to the plate. For the Blue Jays, it was the ultimate “uh-oh.”
“Once you get one man on, the defense starts kind of feeling it a little bit, their pitcher starts feeling it a little bit,” Judge said. “And with this team, one through nine can leave the ballpark. So you get that one man on, anybody can go up and tie the game. We’re never out of any game.”
Just knowing that Judge is going to come up eventually, again and again, gets an opposing defense and an opposing pitcher thinking. Never in a million years would he claim he is the straw that stirs the drink, but he is a huge presence.
Two years ago, baseball commissioner Rob Manfred said, “Aaron Judge has been absolutely phenomenal. There is no other way to describe it. He is a tremendous talent on the field, a really appealing off-the-field personality, the kind of player that can be the face of the game.''
Who knows if there is a “face of the game” in baseball right now? Fact is, Aaron Judge still is the heart and soul of the Yankees. And he is getting his swing back.