NEW YORK — Yankee Stadium was reverberating with the chant, “M-V-P! M-V-P! M-V-P!” On a classically cold night in the Bronx, the sellout crowd serenaded Aaron Judge, putting its own exclamation point on Judge’s spectacular fourth inning that included an amazing catch and a three-run homer.
Judge had finally answered Jose Altuve, his regular-season MVP adversary, who had been the far better player in the first two games of the American League Championship Series. More importantly, Judge and the New York Yankeesturned Monday night into less of a game and more of a party to tighten this series.
“It was his night,” Houston Astros manager A.J. Hinch said.
While Judge was center of attention because of who he is, it was a team effort — with the old guard, CC Sabathia and Todd Frazier, doing their part — as the Yankees cruised to a Game 3 win over the Astros, 8-1.
It was such a celebration that in the eighth inning, the fans in the left-field bleachers decided to do a roll call — which is usually reserved for the first inning — when they chant each player’s name until receiving acknowledgement. Judge paid them his respect by extending his glove as the fans chanted his name.
With Judge crashing into the wall to make a fourth-inning catch, it was not only the fans who were in an appreciative mood.
“We have guys on this this team that will basically go through walls for everybody,” Frazier said.
The Astros are quickly finding out what the Cleveland Indians learned the hard way: Being down 0-2 means little to this Yankees team that has an ideal mix of talented youth and veteran grit. Sabathia once again reached back, like his old buddy Andy Pettitte used to, giving the Yankees exactly what they needed with six scoreless innings. Frazier, a Toms River, New Jersey, native, used the right-field porch to slap a three-run, second-inning homer. Those were all the runs the Yankees would need.
In 2017, the Yankees are about Judge most of all, which is why the talk on the subways in all five boroughs and offices around the city will be about the 6-foot-7, nearly 300-pound right fielder on Tuesday.
Did you see Judge’s catch? Yeah, he homered, too.
In the fourth, Judge made an amazing catch, slamming against the wall in right and holding on to the ball like a tight end after being floored by a free safety.
“That pad’s only a couple inches thick, and right behind that, it’s not moving, even as big as he is,” Yankees left fielder Brett Gardnersaid. “Even though it’s padded, it’s a pretty good hit he took. But like I said, he’s a big guy, so the wall’s probably hurting, too.”
In the bottom half of the same inning, Judge slammed a three-run homer and the blowout was on.
This postseason, Judge is morphing into a combination of Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez. Like the old captain, he has shown a flair for the moment. In the comeback over the Indians, he made probably the most important defensive play of the year when he stole a two-run homer from Francisco Lindor.
While he hasn’t had that many hits so far in the playoffs, Judge has made what he has have count. He nailed a two-run homer in the Yankees’ wild-card win. He had a two-run double in Game 4 of the AL Division Series that chased Cleveland’s starter, Trevor Bauer, in the second. Both extended leads.
“We’ve played how many playoff games — nine? He [has] seven RBIs,” Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. “He gets his walks, got another one tonight. I know how dangerous he is. He can really change a game really quickly.”
This is especially true when he gets his pitch. Judge is so dangerous when pitchers try to go inside on him, like reliever Will Harris did in the fourth. On pitches classified as high and inside, Judge hit four homers on 78 regular-season swings (19.5). On average, the rest of baseball hits those type of pitches out only once every 65 swings.
But still, his clutchness, a la A-Rod, has come into question from some Yankees fans. He has struck out a lot during his Rookie of the Year and possibly-MVP regular season, but the whiffs have been more glaring in the playoffs. He has been sent down on strikes in 50 percent of his postseason at-bats compared to a 31 percent rate in the regular season.
Only nine games into the playoffs, Judge has already broken the record set by Reggie Sanders (1995) and tied by Austin Jackson (2011) for the most strikeouts by one player before the World Series, with 21. It doesn’t impact his mood.
“You’ve got to take the ups with the downs,” Judge said. “You can’t have all the good, come out here and hit a thousand, even though I want to.”
Judge is more than just a home run hitter. In the fifth, he added another really nice catch, coming in to make a diving stop.
“You don’t see people his size move like that,” Yankees first baseman Greg Birdsaid. “At least not in our sport. Maybe the NBA or the NFL, but I never have, personally, up close like this, and it’s really impressive to watch.”
But like the all the biggest stars, the moment seems to find him. If he and his teammates can claw their way back again from another 2-0 hole, it will be the stuff of legends.