We’ve seen some things at the old ballyard, haven’t we? We’ve seen standing ovations and heard cascades of boos. We’ve seen curtain calls in good times, muted gasps in bad times. Hell, we’ve seen Dave Winfield kill a bird with a fly ball and Randy Johnson kill one with a fastball.
But this was a new one: thousands of the 46,965 in the stands pushing the flashlight tab on their cell phones all around Yankee Stadium on Thursday night. Yes, this was a new one.
According to a bunch of folks on Twitter, this was an impromptu “candlelight vigil” held for Aaron Judge, as word circulated around the ballpark that Judge had been taken to New York Presbyterian Hospital for an MRI exam (and, we learned later, a CT scan to boot) since X-rays of his wrist — hit by a Jakob Junis pitch in the first inning — had been inconclusive.
It was an eerie sight, frankly.
And it all turned out to be prescient, too: Judge sustained a chip fracture in his right wrist, and while he won’t need surgery (worst-case scenarios generally tend to stop on the other end of the Triborough Bridge), it’ll be at least three weeks before he can swing a bat again. That means no Judge for next week’s Fenway Park showdown with the Red Sox, it means he and Gary Sanchez will be missing from the Yankees’ lineup for the better part of August.
It means the intentions behind that candlelight vigil were all quite understandable, as it turns out.
Look, the Yankees are so good, so deep, so well constructed that they are able to withstand hardship a lot better than most teams. They lost Gleyber Torres for a few weeks, lost Sanchez for most of a month and now likely will be without him another month. They missed Greg Bird for most of the season’s first two months.
Maybe they don’t win at an 80 percent clip as it seems they do when all the parts are in working order, but they still win an awful lot. They still have the second-best winning percentage in the sport. They still generally find a way to outscore the other guys. They are still as good a pick go the distance in October as anyone else in baseball.
But losing Judge, even if it’s only for the 21 days (and 20 games) on the conservative end of that diagnosis, will be a different kind of challenge for the Yankees, who celebrated two imports Thursday in Zach Britton and J.A. Happ, but now must endure one awful abscess of an export.
“I’m concerned anytime one of out players has to leave a game with something,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said, and that was a few minutes before he learned Judge won’t be coming back into a game for at least a fortnight and a half.
This is an especially profound concern, though. Judge may not be the only threat in a batting order that can still send night shivers down the spine of tomorrow’s starting pitcher, no matter who that starting pitcher is: Giancarlo Stanton has been hotter in July, and Bird is coming on, and Didi Gregorius has come back, and Miguel Andujar only seems to hit line drives.
But Judge is still the bellwether. He is the rock of the lineup, a cleanup hitter hitting No. 2, which means teams deal with him more than most sluggers. And he is having a superb sophomore season: a .285/.398/.548 slash line, 68 walks, 70 runs, 26 homers, 61 RBIs. Teams still build their end-game thinking around Judge’s spot in the order more than anyone else’s.
For the next few weeks, minimum, that’s one less concern.
In the bigger Yankees picture, if this had to come at all, this might actually have been as fortunate a time as any. Yes, it will hurt not having Judge in Boston. But prior to that series the Yankees get five more games at home to feast on the 31-71 Royals and the 29-74 Orioles. They get three against the White Sox (36-66) and four against the Rangers (42-62) and three against the Blue Jays (46-55 and shedding players). They get one against the 43-57 Mets (and who knows who’ll be on that roster by then) and two against the 44-60 Marlins.
In short: there is a good chance the Yankees can soldier on bravely while Judge is gone while beefing up on some baleful opponents. It’s just not something they’ll ever want to get used to, no matter what the schedule holds.\