MINNEAPOLIS – Brett Gardner scored a single to right and DJ LeMahieu scored easily. It was the seventh run of the third inning. It gave the Yankees an 8-0 lead Saturday night.
Aaron Judge, who had been on first, could have cruised into second. Stopped there.
"He could have, but that would have been the wrong thing to do," Gardner said. "And Aaron Judge doesn't want to, he wants the extra base."
In his baseball brain, Judge was thinking the team with the most homers ever in the season was the opponent.
"Base hit, base hit, homer, away from getting back in the game, ”in his way of thinking. They challenged right fielder Eddie Rosario, slid in just ahead of the throw in Division Series Game 2.
“Any chance you get to take an extra base to strengthen a lead, especially in the playoffs, you can't let up , "Judge said.
His essence was accentuated in that easy-to-overlook moment in what would be an 8-2 Yankees triumph that gave them two wins in two tries in The Bronx.
" He plays the game like the kind of person he is, ”said Tim Naehring, the Yankees' vice president of baseball operations. “That is the quality of the person, the quality of his game, the way he plays, really, you are just hungry for your side.”
Judge is not homered in either Yankees victory. He doesn't have an extra-base hit. He has yet to drive in a run.
Still, he has apologies to LeMahieu – been the Yankees' best player in the series. He has been reminded on the biggest stage that he is not a 6-foot-7 power forward masquerading as a baseball player. He is not a marauder locked into launching angles and homer totals. He is one of the most gifted all-around players in the sport.
“I come to myself on it,” Judge said.
It was lost in Game 1 because the final was 10-4, but ask anyone around the team and they will extol the value of two sprawling Judge catches in saving runs, saving pitches thrown, saving pitchers needed and, thus, saving availability for Game 2.
With the Twins ahead 1-0 against James Paxton, Judge lunged to grab a Jorge Polanco sinker that according to the Baseball Savant had an expected batting average of .460. Nelson Cruz followed with a solo homer. In the seventh, with two on and two out, Rosario hit what sure looked like a two-run double off Zack Britton that would have drawn Minnesota within 7-4. It had a .530 expected batting average. Judge turned it to .000.
"Mookie Betts is a center fielder playing right field great in tricky right field in Fenway," Gardner said. And I am telling you that because that is the reason [Judge] is not winning Gold Gloves. And Mookie is deserving. But [Judge] is deserving too. He takes playing the outfield more seriously than any outfielder has ever played with. ”
Bench coach Josh Bard said,“ This guy shags aggressively in Group 1 of batting practice every day. He is a superstar with billboards in Times Square and he is doing the grunt work. People need to stop saying he runs well for a big guy. He runs well. Period. He has a ton of range. He has an 80 [top of the scouting scale] arm. He makes plays in big spots. And it all matters to him. ”
Judge is as big a star as there is in the game. Literally and metaphorically. He could be coasting on defense or bases or trying to play hero ball at the plate.
Think of how, for example, Alex Rodriguez tried to justify his status this time of year in his early Yankee seasons and made himself worse for it.
Judge has batted 10 times in this series. He has yet to strike out. He has drawn four walks, refusing to chase pitches or glory. He has three singles – one to center, two to right, none pulled. Two of the hits and two of the walks have come with two strikes. He has a .500 average and a .700 on-base percentage.
“If I don't get anything to hit, I'll pass the baton,” Judge said.
But let's not pass on the chance to recognize Aaron Judge, yep elite power hitter, but also all-around star.