OAKLAND — Aaron Judge is back on track. The Yankees slugger, who snapped a nine-game homer drought earlier this week, hit his third home run in the last four games Friday night as the Bombers beat the A’s 3-2 at the Coliseum.
It was the fifth straight win for the Yankees (78-48) and sixth in their last 11 games. The Bombers are 7-8 in their last 15 games and 8-12 in their last 20. With the Rays losing to the Red Sox, the Bombers moved 8.5 games ahead of the pack in the American League East. Perhaps more significantly, the Astros lost Friday night, so the Yankees moved to within 2.5 games in the race for the best record in the American League. The A’s (46-81) are one loss away from being eliminated in the AL West.
Judge’s 427-foot shot to dead center field in the fifth, off former Yankee JP Sears, was his major-league-leading 49th homer of the season. The 30-year-old is on pace to break the American League record of 61 homers in a season, set in 1961 by Yankee Roger Maris. Judge is on pace to hit 63. He is just one of three Yankees to have multiple seasons with at least 49 home runs, joining Mickey Mantle and Babe Ruth.
Judge’s three-run shot was the third of three hits off Sears in that inning. The lefty, who the Yankees dealt to Oakland to acquire Frankie Montas and Lou Trivino, gave up eight hits, walked four and struck out three over six innings.
Gerrit Cole allowed one run on three hits. He walked two and struck out 11 over 7.1 innings pitched. The 11 strikeouts were one shy of his season high and gave him 200 on the season, making him the first pitcher to 200 in the majors this season. It was the second straight season Cole has posted at least 200 strikeouts and his fourth 200-K season in the last five seasons and his fifth overall.
Jonah Bride crushed a hanging knuckle curveball for his first major league home run with two outs in the seventh inning, cutting the Yankees lead to 3-1. That was just the second hit Cole allowed. Nick Allen led off the eighth with a single for the last hit off Cole. Wandy Peralta gave up a one-out RBI single to Vimael Machin in the ninth and had the tying run on first when he struck out Bride and struck out pinch hitter David McKinnon.
Rookie Oswaldo Cabrera had a career-high three hits for the second straight game. He had his first big league triple.
Cabrera’s second hit, first single, led off the seventh, followed by a DJ LeMahieu single and capped off by Judge’s bomb.
With 36 games to go, Judge is the run-away favorite to win the season home run title, but the question is will he make history?
Unlike Maris, who had Mickey Mantle chasing him, or the much-publicized race between Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa, Judge has no one close enough to push him. Kyle Schwarber has 35, Paul Goldschmidt has 33 and Pete Alonso and Yordan Alvarez each have 31.
“That’s a big gap. Like it’s hard for me to even wrap my brain around that,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said.
Boone was very much caught up in the last real home run race between McGwire and Sosa in 1998, when he was still playing.
“With the Reds, we were playing St. Louis and Chicago all September it seemed like. McGwire and Sosa we’re going back and forth … I think I was playing third when one or both probably hit 59 and 60 in that kind of range. … It was enormous and as a player playing against it, it was fun. It felt like more meaningful games and fun to witness and being a part of it.
“As manager on his team and watching him soar through this amazing season together,” Boone said. “So, I’m definitely enjoying watching him become this kind of next level of player even, but also we’re team-oriented, like, how are we gonna win tonight?
“But I definitely have the appreciation for what Aaron’s doing.”
It was Judge’s 207th career home run, moving him past Mark Teixeira for sole possession of 13th in franchise history. Jason Giambi is next at 209.
Jose Trevino, who was hit by a pitch in the right foot during his eighth inning at-bat, was subbed out in the ninth.