NEW YORK – All October, pitchers straddling the mound 60 feet, 6 inches from
Not only has it worked, but in his first at-bat of Game 3 of the American League Championship Series on Monday night, Judge set a single-season record for postseason strikeouts – and the month wasn’t even halfway over. It was curious, then, that the
Finally, in his second at-bat of the night, he got it: 93 mph, high for most but right at his belt, inside but not so far he couldn’t whip around the head of his 35-inch, 33-ounce bat, the kind of pitch that can change a series. And not because the
“You can’t have all the good, come out here and hit a thousand, even though I want to,” Judge said. “It’s baseball, I’ve got to enjoy the good times and the bad times. That’s what I picked up and learned from my teammates. They’ve supported me through the good times and the bad times.”
To call the times bad understates his October thus far. The only surprise of it is that the Yankees have managed not to be sucked into his vacuum of production. Coming into Monday, Judge was 4 for 31 with 19 strikeouts – and two of those hits, including his only previous home run, came in the wild card game.
Teams haven’t just fed Judge a diet of breaking balls to neutralize him; it’s been more like gavage. Game 3 was only the second of nine games this postseason in which Judge saw more fastballs than breaking balls, and with 14 of the 20 pitches fastballs, it was by far the highest percentage. Coming into the game, Judge had faced 201 pitches in October, and 112 of them – or 55.7 percent – were breaking balls. During the regular season, of the 2,985 pitches
Scouts and analysts saw the same thing: Not only were Judge’s power numbers significantly worse against breaking balls – he hit just eight of his 52 regular-season home runs off curveballs and sliders – but he swung and missed twice as often. That number has spiked even higher in the playoffs. While Judge is whiffing on about one of every four swings he takes at a fastball, as he did during the regular season, his swing-and-miss percentage on breaking balls coming into Game 3 was 65.9 percent.
The home run pitch from Astros reliever
It has been reminiscent, in some ways, of the near-two-month period during which Judge, the runaway AL MVP favorite after the first half, went missing in action. From July 14 through Sept. 9, Judge hit .182/.346/.365. His surge toward the end of the season, in which he hit .367/.512/1.100 with 13 home runs and 27 RBIs in 84 plate appearances over 19 games, thrust him back into the MVP conversation with the Astros’ Jose Altuve. The Yankees can only hope Game 3 serves as a similar launch pad, because with a pair of games left against starters
“He just sees the big picture,” Yankees outfielder
One swing does not make an October.
Then again, in Game 3 the Astros faced a 37-year-old who has lost about 10 mph off his prime fastball, and he neutered an offense that now has scored five runs in three ALCS games. At 8:08 p.m. ET, the first synth beat of
He threw six shutout innings, the first 37-and-over pitcher to do so since Pedro Martinez for the Philadelphia Phillies in the 2009 NLCS. And helping him was Judge, who in the top of the fourth inning tracked a
“We have guys on this team,” said Yankees third baseman
“He’s a big guy,” Gardner said, “so the wall’s probably hurting, too.”
The wall shook it off. So did Judge. There was still greatness in him after all, after the struggles, after the trials and travails. It’s easy to forget he’s still a rookie because he’s 6-foot-7 and 282 pounds, because he’s so poised, because rookies aren’t supposed to have seasons like he had, aren’t supposed to bounce back from slumps even better than before. It’s what the 49,373 fans at Yankee Stadium for Game 3 so appreciated: The reminder that, yes, Judge is still here and still a force.
“Why would I come in the postseason and try to change something, even though I’m struggling for three or four games, five, six games?” Judge said. “It’s six games.”
Those three and four and five and six can turn into 10 or 20 or 30 easily enough, as Judge knows, and that’s the fear. Because there aren’t 10 or 20 or 30 games left to work through it. There is now. October is finite, and that’s what makes it so cruel, and that’s what makes it so exhilarating, and that’s what makes the fat gold ring with a mine’s worth of diamonds on it so prized. This is the month where the best are supposed to be at their best. For one night at least, Aaron Judge was, and he gave himself a break from the failure that can consume even the best.
Come Game 4 on Tuesday, he’s primed to see a different sort of break. One that will keep testing him until he proves he can beat it, too.
CC Sabathia leads the way with six scoreless innings, plus Aaron Judge clubs a three-run home run and makes two fantastic catches