It nearly happened again.
The Yankees were no-hit on Saturday, and they didn’t get their first hit on Sunday until the seventh inning, when a fed up Giancarlo Stanton turned a middle-middle fastball into his 17th homer of the year. Those struggles were all easily forgotten when Aaron Judge laced a walk-off homer into the Astros’ bullpen, his second walk-off hit of the contentious series.
“You feel it pre-pitch, walking up to the plate,” Judge said of meeting the moment in big spots. “They’re playing the walk-up song and the crowd is getting crazy. But once you get in the box, dig in and take a deep breath, it doesn’t go silent. But you lock it in.”
The second straight inept offensive performance from the Yankees became a 6-3 win, one for the end-of-season montage. DJ LeMahieu came through with his own four bagger to tie the game at 3-3 in the eighth inning. The ninth inning cast a darkness over the stadium when Gleyber Torres crumpled to the ground with a very serious-looking leg injury, one Aaron Boone said afterward was a “mild ankle sprain”, but a walkoff has a way of reversing those feelings.
“I’ve been saying it for years,” Judge reminded. “It doesn’t matter what the score is or what happened the night before. Any time we get up there, we got a chance to win the ball game.”
How a team on pace to break Major League Baseball’s single-season win record can look this bad at the plate two games in a row is astonishing. The Astros are obviously a great team — and stand in a class far above the rest of the American League in terms of staunchest competitors for the Yankees — but the display at Yankee Stadium over the last 48 hours was fairly embarrassing. That is, until they banded together and decided losing this series was not an option. Stanton’s homer broke a streak of 17.1 straight innings without a hit, and the team finished Sunday’s loss with only four, enough for a win in front of yet another delirious home crowd.
There doesn’t seem to be anything Judge can’t do this season. There are maybe three or four people on Earth who can say they’re better than him and not get laughed out of the room. When the Yankees need things to happen, not only is Judge the man for the job, it seems like his turn in the order is always due up.
“I wish he was up more in those situations,” Boone said of Judge, who now has three walk-off hits this season. “I like when his spot rolls around.”
“He’s the best baseball player in the world,” Michael King said. “Every time he’s in the box I’m expecting a home run. The things that surprise me are when people get him out.”
Judge only got out twice on Sunday. His home run plus an eighth-inning walk added to his team-high .369 on-base percentage, and even though a ball off the wall would have sufficed, the walk-off homer pads his league lead in homers. Judge now has 28 on the year, with Mike Trout and Yordan Alvarez behind him at 22.
Astros’ starter Jose Urquidy will be, through no fault of his own, relegated to an afterthought in this game. He pitched like he was trying to one-up teammate Cristian Javier, who handled the first seven innings of Saturday’s combined no-hitter. Urquidy got through 6.1 unscathed until Stanton’s dead center home run put the Yankees in the hit column. Still, the Astros enjoyed a marvelous day from their starting pitcher (seven innings, one hit, one run), with the only note being that his three walks created some prisons of his own design.
Urquidy escaped each time though, and his offense was a wonderful accomplice. Before the traditional roll call began from the right field bleachers, Jose Altuve had given the Astros a lead. He took a mighty hack at Nestor Cortes’ very first pitch of the day and deposited it over the left field wall. It was Altuve’s seventh leadoff homer of the year and an emphatic middle finger to the stadium dwellers who had drowned him in boos all weekend.
Cortes was fine, but he needed to be better than fine to top Urquidy. The Yankees’ lovable lefty did get seven strikeouts (his most since June 2) but Houston chowed down on the few yummy pitches he threw. Two more runs came in the fourth inning when Cortes gave up two-out knocks to Yuli Gurriel, Jeremy Pena and Mauricio Dubon. Those at-bats served as a nice juxtaposition to what their opponent did early on, as the Yankees squandered their first two chances for a two-out hit with a runner on base until LeMahieu’s clutch home run.
The Yankees’ bullpen pooled their strength to pick up Cortes. Miguel Castro struck out three hitters in his two innings of work, Wandy Peralta followed with a clean inning, and Clay Holmes handled the top of the ninth in a tie game, the correct managerial move by Aaron Boone. Michael King touched 100 miles per hour for the first time in his life while getting himself in and out of a bases-loaded jam in the tenth — the automatic runner certainly didn’t help — setting up his superstar teammate for glory.
The Yankees would have preferred to win the series, but they can hang their hat on coming back and taking Sunday’s game to get a split. Aside from injuries, this squad hasn’t had much adversity this year. Dropping three of four at home to their most challenging rival would have sparked some of the first baseball-related concerns of the year, but that’s all out the window now.
Judge, who gave, the bat from his game-winning hit to a lucky fan, was glad the Bombers’ bats are heating back up.
“I’d rather have it now than October,” Judge said of the mini, hitless doldrum the team encountered. “You don’t want to go through it, but every team needs a little bit.”