The moment carried a Jeterian touch.
Tie game in Flushing, first pitch of an inning, home run?
Who better to steal that move from the Captain’s book than his successor as face of the franchise?
Aaron Judge’s first-pitch, leadoff, eighth-inning round-tripper off Anthony Swarzak gave the Mets’ big-money reliever the rudest introduction possible to this side of the Subway Series. It completed the Yankees’ come-from-behind effort with a 4-3 victory over the Mets at Citi Field, their fifth straight win and the Mets’ eighth straight loss.
“Every game’s the same,” Judge said, throwing out a cliché that even the disciplined Derek Jeter might not have used in such an instance. “Any time I can get our team the lead and put a good at-bat up there late in the game, I’m going to try to do it.”
He does it often enough — of his 18 homers this season, six have put the Yankees ahead — and like Jeter for the high majority of his career, his supporting cast provides him multiple chances after the occasional misfires. On this night, for instance, Judge had a chance to do damage in the fifth inning when he stepped up with the bases loaded and two outs and his club trailing, 3-1. He grounded out to a shifted Asdrubal Cabrera at the shortstop position.
By the next time, Judge said, “That at-bat’s behind me. There’s nothing I can do about it. It would be bad if I took that with me into my next at-bat. I probably wouldn’t have a good at-bat then. So for me, it’s just a clean slate, lead off the inning, try to do something to get the rally going.”
Judge had never faced Swarzak before, although they were teammates for a month and a half on the 2016 Yankees. “I know Swarzak well, man,” he said “He’s a great guy and a really good pitcher. That’s why I said if I can try to get him early, it’ll be better for me. If he gets strike on me, I’ll be in a hole.”
Swarzak, who just returned earlier in the week from a long disabled-list stay (left oblique), pitched once for the Yankees against the Mets in 2016. He started things off from the other side with a slider that hung like it had nowhere to go soon. Judge poked it over the left-field wall, with a modest exit velocity of 97 mph, to put the Yankees ahead for the first time.
“He’ll pick his spots where he’ll go up there and look for a certain pitch sometimes,” Aaron Boone said of his American League MVP candidate. “I think that’s one of the things that makes him special is the ability to control the zone. We talk to [the media]about wanting our guys to be on the hunt, looking early in the count for pitches they can do damage with and picking their spots when they’re maybe in a situation.”
That worked out pretty well. Just as it worked out for Jeter in the 2000 World Series Game 4 at Shea Stadium when, in the wake of the Yankees losing Game 3, he connected on Bobby Jones’ very first pitch of the night and deposited it over the left-field wall for an instant lead that the Yankees never relinquished, and they won the clinching Game 5, to boot.
Jeter won Most Valuable Player honors in that Subway World Series, and in regular-season action, he slashed a monstrous .364/.419/.536 in 88 regular-season games.
If Judge has not quite dominated the Mets like his spiritual ancestor, he has shown flashes of doing so. Saturday’s homer marked his third against the Mets in six games, and he boasts an overall .238/.346/.714 slash line against the crosstown foes.
“We’ve got a really good team that competes,” he said. If it continues to compete like this, Judge will put himself in the position he really wants: Taking a run at Jeter’s ring count.