HOUSTON — He has spent so much of the last two years lurking in the shadows, nursing various injuries, working his way back toward 100 percent health. In so many ways we have been robbed of what should have been two of the most productive years of Aaron Judge’s career, his age-26 and age-27 seasons.
He hit 27 home runs both years. Now, it is tempting to pull a Feller Card here. In his later years, Bob Feller was a regular at baseball shows and autograph shows, and he would sometimes show up in his old Cleveland Indians uniform, and he would always distribute business cards advertising the Bob Feller Museum in Van Meter, Iowa (just 17 miles west of Des Moines!), on one side and his projected stats had he not missed the 1942, ’43, ’44 and ’45 seasons to World War II.
Judge? In 2017, when he took the sport by storm by hitting a rookie record 52 home runs, he did so in 678 plate appearances (and 542 at-bats) spanning 155 games. He hit a homer once every 10.4 at-bats. He’s been slightly below that the last two years, but even at that pace he would’ve hit 35 last year and 40 this year given a full season of at-bats — and only the imagination allows what he would’ve done with 678 plate appearances with the juiced-up ball.
“It’s pretty simple, really,” his manager, Aaron Boone, said about Judge this week. “He’s a guy you’re thinking about all the time if you’re on the other side. Not only how to get him out when he’s at the plate, but also figuring out how many batters away he is in the lineup at any given time.”
Now, the Yankees have a few players like that: Gleyber Torres, of course, and DJ LeMahieu. Gary Sanchez has spent swatches of his career even more dominant than Judge, though they’re more fleeting. Certainly Giancarlo Stanton still commands that respect.
But Judge is different. Judge is 6-foot-7, 282 pounds. Judge wears No. 99. Judge hits BP fastballs 8 miles, looking like he’s barely waving a fly swatter. Judge is a human cartoon, the product of a vivid imagination, except he is all too real. When healthy, he is that forever athletic term: a beast. And Judge is healthy. So he is a beast. No matter who is pitching.
The Astros are some kind of baseball team.
And Judge is some kind of player. Game on.
“Once you get in the postseason you never know what’s going to happen,” Judge said Friday. “You always during the regular season try to map it out, like, We’ll probably see these guys here and these guys here and these guys later down the road. Once you get in the postseason you never really know what is going to happen.”
The Yankees and the Astros played Game 1 of the American League Championship Series on Saturday, resuming a rivalry we last heard from in 2017. Judge was terrific in that series, hitting three homers, driving in seven runs, playing a spotless right field even as he was nursing a nagging shoulder injury that affected him the last couple months of the season.
He’s looked forward to the rematch for a long time.
“I think about the three games at home, us having the two-game deficit and us being able to rally and get three and give us a shot back here for two with Houston,” he said. “Just how resilient that team was, how they fought to the very end. We used our home-field advantage a little bit in those three games.
“I think about Game 7, and us just coming up a little short. It was just an intense series all-around. Good baseball. They have a good team. They can hit for power and get guys on base, they can steal, good defense, good pitching staff. Same with us, we have guys that can get on base, for power. I’m looking forward to it.”
He wasn’t alone.