Aaron Judge walked slowly off the field. The Yankees slugger, who carried the team the entire regular season, couldn’t get the last ball past the pitcher’s mound in his final at-bat. The face of the franchise turned and watched as the Astros streamed out of their dugout and toward the center of the Yankee Stadium field. The final out of a 6-5 loss that completed the Astros’ four-game sweep of the American League Championship Series over the Yankees, Judge took what might be his final walk off the field in pinstripes watching the Astros celebrating on the Yankees’ field.
“I’ve told you guys over the years, we’re not the last team standing, so it doesn’t matter what you do,” said Judge, who will become a free agent after the World Series. “What happens, it’s a failure. We came up short.”
For the third time in six years the Yankees were eliminated in the ALCS by the Astros, who will advance to face the Phillies in the World Series beginning on Friday. The Yankees will now go 13 years without playing in a World Series.
“It’s an awful day, just an awful ending. It stings. It hurts,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said. “No one I would rather do it with than those guys in there and how together they are. So you kind of lean on each other there, but the ending, as I’ve said before, it’s cruel.
“So much goes into it and trying to climb to that top of the mountain. Unfortunately, we haven’t been able to get there yet, and I know it will continue to motivate everyone in there to try and get there,” Boone continued. ”That’s what you work for and don’t take for granted the opportunity you have sitting in front of you. But the ending is terrible.”
Sunday night’s ending was a microcosm of the Yankees season: a torrid start, a home run, an injury, a comeback, an error and then a bullpen lapse.
The Yankees took a three run lead early, Nestor Cortes went just two innings suffering a left groin injury. He faced three batters in the third, walking the first two and then giving up a three-run, game-tying homer to Jeremy Pena. The Astros had a four-run third and the Bombers rallied to tie it on Anthony Rizzo’s second RBI hit of the night. They re-took the lead on Harrison Bader’s fifth playoff home run.
After Jose Altuve beat out a broken-bat infield grounder to first baseman Anthony Rizzo in the top of the seventh, Gleyber Torres made a bad feed on a Pena ground ball that could have been a double play. Instead the ball got past a tripping Isiah Kiner-Falefa and put two on base when Yordan Alvarez slapped a ground-ball single into right field allowing the speedy Altuve to score the tying run.
That chased Jonathan Loaisiga after running up his pitch count to 32. Clay Holmes came in and gave up a line-drive, go-ahead RBI single to Alex Bregman.
“They played better than us, simple as it is,” Judge said. “They came up with the big hits, their pitching staff did their job, played great defense and I suppose that’s what it really kind of comes down to.”
Players in the clubhouse said that there is a lot to evaluate heading into 2023. GM Brian Cashman is not under contract for next season. While Boone has three years left on his, pitching coach Matt Blake is a free agent as well. They have to decide how to manage a payroll that has heavy hits with Gerrit Cole and Giancarlo Stanton on it. They have figure out how they finally can close the gap with the Astros, who have dominated them since 2017.
But all that begins with them having to decide whether Judge is going to be back.
The 30-year old said he never let himself think about Sunday night being his final night as a Yankee. He turned down a contract extension on Opening Day worth $230 million over eight years, including 2022. He went out and had a historic season, hitting an AL-record 62 home runs, breaking the franchise record set by Roger Maris in 1961.
“Incredible. Just an incredible season,” Boone said of Judge. “He’s someone that I’ve grown close with and just admire and respect and hopefully we’ll see him in pinstripes for a long time. I don’t even want to think about the alternative right now.”
Judge spent 20 minutes shaking hands and giving hugs in the clubhouse after speaking to reporters. He walked out just after 1:30 a.m. into an uncertain future for him and the Yankees.