Back in Judge's chambers, Yankees cut Astros' ALCS lead in half
NEW YORK — Yankee Stadium was reverberating with the chants: “MVP! MVP! MVP!” 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 his regular-season MVP adversary, Astros star Jose Altuve, who had been the far better player in the first two games of the ALCS. More importantly, Judge and the Yankees turned Monday night into less of a game and more of a party to tighten this series.
While Judge was the center of attention because of who he is, it was a team effort — with the old guard, starter CC Sabathia and third baseman Todd Frazier, doing their part — as the New York Yankees cruised to an 8-1 win over the Houston Astros in ALCS Game 3.
It was such a celebration that in the eighth inning, the fans in left field decided to do a roll call, which is usually reserved for the first inning when they chant each players’ name until receiving acknowledgement.
The Astros are quickly finding out what the Indians learned the hard way. Being down 2-0 means little to this Yankees team that has an ideal mix of talented youth and veteran grit. Sabathia once again reached back, as his old buddy Andy Pettitte used to, giving the Yankees exactly what they needed with six scoreless innings, while Frazier (of Toms River, New Jersey) took advantage of the right-field porch and slapped a three-run second-inning homer. It was all the runs the Yankees would need.
In 2017, the Yankees are most of all about Judge, which is why the talk Tuesday on the subways in all five boroughs and in offices around the city will be about the 6-foot-7, nearly 300-pound right fielder.
Did you see Judge’s catch? Yeah, he homered, too.
In the top of the fourth inning, Judge made an amazing catch, slamming against the wall in right and holding onto the ball like a tight end after being floored by a free safety. In the bottom of the fourth, 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 Jeter, the old captain, Judge has shown a flair for the moment. In the ALDS 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 many hits so far in the playoffs, he has made them count. He nailed a two-run homer in the Yankees’ wild-card win. He had a two-run double in Game 4 of the ALDS that chased Cleveland starter Trevor Bauer in the second inning. Both hits extended leads.
But, a la A-Rod, Judge’s clutchness has been questioned by some Yankees fans. He struck out a lot during his surefire Rookie of the Year (and possible MVP) regular season, but the whiffs have been more glaring in the playoffs. He has struck out in 51 percent of his postseason plate appearances, compared with a 31 percent rate in the regular season.
Only nine games into the playoffs, Judge has 21 strikeouts and has already broken the record set by Reggie Sanders (1995) and Austin Jackson (2011) for the most strikeouts by one player before the World Series (their shared record was 20).
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.