Some players are born to star in October, to shine on baseball’s biggest stage, and to step up when their teams need them most. The Yankees’ illustrious history is filled with such icons. Standing among them are giants like Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle, and Mr. October himself, Reggie Jackson. One current Yankee has already ascended to join this pantheon of pinstriped heroes, and he continues to build his legend every day.
Aaron Judge capped a historic rookie campaign by leading his team to within one win of the World Series last year. His four home runs, 11 RBI, and nine runs scored paced players on all playoff teams which fell shy of the final round. All Rise was easily the Yankees’ postseason MVP.
His fourth inning, two-run homer during the Wild Card Game extended New York’s lead to three. It was the blow which broke the backs of the Twins. With the Yankees facing elimination in Game Four of the ALDS, Judge lined a second-inning two-run double off of Trevor Bauer to give them a 4-0 lead. The knock proved to be the game winner, as New York went on to defeat Cleveland 7-3.
Down two games to none during the ALCS, Judge blasted a three-run homer in the fourth inning of Game Three to give the Bombers a commanding 8-0 advantage. The next night, Judge came through at the most critical point of the game. His eighth-inning double drove home the tying run. Two batters later, Judge scored what proved to be the game-winner as New York evened the series.
Judge wasted no time jump-starting his team this October. His first-inning two-run shot against Oakland during the Wild Card Game gave the Yankees a lead they would never relinquish. Two nights later, his solo shot in the ninth cut Boston’s lead to 5-4. Perhaps more importantly, the opposite-field blast pierced the cloak of invincibility that Red Sox closer Craig Kimbrel seems to carry, and revealed another vulnerability in Boston’s porous bullpen.
The next night, Judge once again set the tone for New York by homering over the Green Monster in the first inning. As in the Wild Card Game, the bomb gave the Yankees a lead which they would never surrender. It also made Judge just the third player in baseball history to homer in each of his team’s first three postseason games. Only Johnny Mize (1952) and Hank Bauer (‘58) previously turned the trick, with each getting the Yankees well on their way to a world championship. Judge is the only Yankee to homer seven times in his first 16 career postseason games.
Some players make headlines during the regular season, win batting and home run titles, claim awards, and then wilt when the calendar flips to October. But not Aaron Judge. He’s one of those rare superstars that actually seem to rise higher when games count the most.
Judge also appears to have an instinctive flair for the dramatic, as great leaders do. Following the Game Two triumph at Fenway Park, Judge was seen walking past the Red Sox clubhouse with Frank Sinatra’s theme from New York, New York blaring from his boombox as he made his way to the Yankees’ team bus. He seemed to be sending a pointed message to the Red Sox, as well as his own teammates. With the series tied and the next two games hosted in the Bronx, the Yankees can ensure that their next road trip occurs during the League Championship Series. I have a feeling that Judge is resolved to make it so.