Yankees energized by Aaron Judge’s brilliance, but bigger battles on the horizon

Yankees players celebrate after their 8-3 win over the Orioles in Baltimore on July 29, 2023.
Inna Zeyger
Sunday July 30, 2023

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Fueled by Aaron Judge’s impressive three-hit performance, featuring his first post-injury home run, the Yankees’ offense came alive and secured a big, much-needed win over the Orioles on Saturday night. The sellout crowd at Camden Yards witnessed the Bombers’ resurgence in full force. However, with Aaron Judge not fully fit and every game counts for a playoff berth, the Yankees have the real test ahead.

In his second game back from the injured list, Aaron Judge showcased his typical brilliance with a two-run homer in the third inning. The blast provided the Yankees with a lead and ultimately led them to an impressive 8-3 victory over the Orioles. Although Judge stole the spotlight, it was clear that he had ample support from his teammates as they united for a convincing win.

For a brief moment, the Yankees’ world seemed to fall back into place exhibiting the force that won the most MLB championships, if only for a single night, or perhaps just enough to provide a glimmer of hope.

Giancarlo Stanton and Kyle Higashioka contributed with home runs, while Isiah Kiner-Falefa‘s outstanding 10-pitch at-bat culminated in a pivotal three-run double, providing the Yankees (55-49) with a comfortable lead in the sixth inning.

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Manager Aaron Boone expressed a sense of relief as he commented on the team’s performance, saying that it was exactly what they are aiming for. He mentioned that the Yankees delivered tough at-bats throughout the night while emphasizing that it reflected the identity they were striving to achieve as a team.

The Yankees’ victory brought them within a margin of 2 ½ games of the final AL wild card position currently held by the Blue Jays. They need to demonstrate their ability to replicate performances like Saturday’s on a more regular basis, and that begins with the rubber game of the series on Sunday. However, Judge is confident that if they can achieve that consistency, they have the potential to make a strong push in the remaining two months of the season.

The Yankees captain expressed that he wouldn’t count the team out.

The Judgement day for the Yankees

The Yankees captain, who had a 3-for-5 performance with two RBIs, was absent for almost two months and didn’t participate in a rehab assignment. Despite his right big toe’s ligament tear, he made a speedy return and swiftly dispelled any doubts about his current level of performance.

Aaron Judge connected with a four-seam fastball thrown by Tyler Wells and sent it soaring to center field, scoring Kyle Higashioka and aiding the Yankees in their recovery from an early deficit.

Overall, the Yankees lineup, which was seeking an extra boost beyond Aaron Judge’s return, amassed 12 hits. Their eight runs matched the highest tally they had achieved in any game this month.

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Yet, amidst all the positives of the game, one thing stood out above all else—the encouraging performance of Aaron Judge in his first two games back after nearly two months on the sidelines with a torn ligament in his right big toe. On Friday, he served as the designated hitter, managing to draw three walks despite going 0-for-1. However, it was on Saturday when he truly shined, starting in right field and delivering an impressive 3-for-5 performance that included a home run, two runs, and two RBIs.

According to Kiner-Falefa, Aaron Judge means everything to the organization, and it’s evident in the difference in energy when he’s present compared to when he’s not. The impact he brings is pretty self-explanatory.

In the inning immediately following the Orioles taking a 2-1 lead in the bottom of the second, Aaron Judge responded in the top of the third by smashing a two-run homer that traveled an estimated 442 feet. With this homer, he now leads the team with 20 home runs and has 42 RBIs, second only to Gleyber Torres‘ 44. Notably, this was Judge’s first home run since June 3, the night he suffered his injury at Dodger Stadium.

Afterward, the Yankees continued to build on their lead, displaying quality at-bats throughout the lineup.

But far from perfect, the real test awaits the Yankees

Despite a couple of outs at third base by Harrison Bader and Anthony Volpe, the Yankees’ performance wasn’t flawless, but it provided a positive foundation to build upon and dream about.

Clarke Schmidt emphasized the importance of every game being a must-win, particularly against a formidable opponent like the Orioles, where the atmosphere felt akin to the playoffs. He expressed satisfaction with the team’s ability to secure a significant victory and score plenty of runs, making it a positive and gratifying experience.

The Yankees find themselves in a position to potentially clinch a series victory against the division-leading Orioles, whether Aaron Judge is in the lineup or not on Sunday. Manager Aaron Boone expressed a leaning towards resting Judge, considering his recent return without a rehab assignment after the lengthy absence. While Boone seems inclined towards giving Judge a break, he also hinted at the possibility of him playing, leaving some room for flexibility.

Boone expressed his desire to have Aaron Judge in the lineup for every game, considering the upcoming 13-game stretch. He hopes that Judge will be able to start around nine or ten of those games. However, the Yankees manager acknowledged the importance of being cautious and smart with Aaron Judge’s return, not only because of his toe injury but also due to the extended time he spent away from playing games over the past two months.

Aaron Judge acknowledged the sentiment. Without him as a regular, it will be a test for the Yankees to live upto the expectations.

Amidst a team known for its historical success, the current situation is truly perplexing. For devoted Yankees fans, it’s a painful experience. Angry supporters are flooding call-in shows, urging for trades and expressing their dissatisfaction with the team’s leadership. They criticize Hal Steinbrenner’s management style compared to his father’s and question Brian Cashman’s ability to find suitable outfielders. The decisions made by manager Aaron Boone, especially regarding the bullpen and lineup, are scrutinized, particularly when the offense is struggling, leaving little room for mistakes.

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