By Kevin Kernan
October 4, 2017
Aaron Judge #99 of the New York Yankees hits a two run home run against Jose Berrios #17 of the Minnesota Twins during the fourth inning in the American League Wild Card Game at Yankee Stadium on October 3, 2017 in the Bronx borough of New York City. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
The biggest of rookies owns the big playoff stage, too.
In his first postseason game, Aaron Judge brought the capacity crowd at Yankee Stadium to its feet Tuesday night.
“All Rise” works in October, as do “MVP’’ chants.
In the wildest of wild-card games, Judge jettisoned a two-run home run to left off a Jose Berrios breaking ball in the fourth inning, sending the crowd into a home run frenzy as the baseball left the park at 108 mph in four seconds flat.
Even Judge let out a wow as he rounded first base.
The two-run blast gave the Yankees a three-run cushion over the Twins and they survived the AL Wild Card Game with an 8-4 victory, after trailing 3-0, to move on to the ALDS against the Indians.
It was pure power in the dugout, too, as Judge went wild with this home run celebration, yelling with the kind of enthusiasm usually reserved for a college football game.
“When I look at Aaron,’’ Joe Girardi said, “there’s a smile on his face a lot. You just feel really good when he’s around.’’
Judge stopped to get “interviewed’’ by his “Toe-Night Show’’ teammates, a glimpse of these fun-loving Yankees. As Judge jogged to right field the next inning, the crowd, from the bleachers past the foul pole, stood and cheered wildly, chanting Judge’s name.
“It was extraordinary,’’ Judge said of the 49,280 fans. “We were feeding off that crowd all night.’’
This was the Judge’s Chambers like never before.
“I was nervous before the game, but after the first pitch was thrown, it’s still the same ballgame,’’ Judge said after his two-hit, three-run, two-RBI night, becoming only the third Yankees rookie to homer in his postseason debut, joining Shane Spencer (1998) and Elston Howard (1955).
No. 99 enjoyed every second of his initial postseason game.
Even MLB commissioner Rob Manfred went out of his way to praise Judge, saying: “He had a phenomenal season. A great young player. One of a group of really great young players in our game that we are blessed to have.’’
Yankees fans certainly feel blessed that Judge is in their lineup. His presence has changed the team on the field and in the clubhouse. He set up the Yankees’ three-run first inning when his single to center put runners on the corners, and Didi Gregorius lashed a three-run home run two batters later.
Another Aaron who knows something about Yankee Stadium postseason magic and home runs was at the ballpark, too. Aaron Boone was here broadcasting the game for ESPN.
Boone hit the walk-off home run in the bottom of the 11th in Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS to beat the Red Sox.
When he hit that home run, this is what Boone felt: “Joy, relief, exhaled.’’
Boone offered this advice to Judge and all the Yankees: “The Indians are waiting for you [Thursday]. Enjoy the evening, but more so than anywhere else, in New York it’s about the end.’’
“We can’t exhale now because we are going to be facing one of the best teams in baseball,’’ Judge said of the Indians. “We have to keep this momentum we have going.’’
Judge led the American League with 52 home runs and amazingly became the fourth qualifying rookie to post an OPS of more than 1.000 with a 1.049 mark, behind only these three historic names: Joe Jackson (1911), Ted Williams (1939) and Albert Pujols (2001). Imagine that.
The Twins always lose to the Yankees in postseason series. The Indians are a much more complete team. The Yankees did what they had to do and now this group gets to grow even more.
Judge said this is the most caring, together team he ever has been on in his life. They fell behind 3-0 in the first inning, but charged back with home runs from Gregorius, Brett Gardner (a solo shot in the third for a 5-4 lead) and Judge, who hit his two-run laser in the fourth.
“I was just happy to add two more runs to the board,’’ Judge said of his blast.
In every way this was a terrific postseason opening night for Judge. All Rise once again.