If the Yankees are going to continue relying on home runs as their main run producer, it’s a sound strategy to get two of them from their best player in one game.
Aaron Judge went the opposite way for both of his home runs in Friday night’s 4-1 win over the Cleveland Guardians.
“Judgey kind of had that look in his eye tonight,” Aaron Boone said. “Sometimes he tells me he’s got us, but he kind of gave me that look before the game like ‘I got this’. He was great.”
While both of Judge’s launch jobs were absolutely smoked — each one traveled at 112 miles per hour — the second of the pair was a classic Yankee Stadium homer. With a 19-degree launch angle, the line drive over the right-field short porch is probably a double in every other stadium. But for a team that’s already feeling the pressure of an underwhelming start, they’ll take any good fortune they can get.
“I’ve been feeling good all year,” Judge said. “I like the lineup we got. I like playing center field. We’ve got a lot of guys in here grinding, trying to do their thing. The numbers may not show that they’re doing well, but they’re hitting the ball hard. Eventually it has to turn. That’s baseball.”
Friday’s good fortune extended to the pitching rubber as well, where the Yankees got Jameson Taillon’s best start of the young season. Taillon threw the most pitches of any of his three starts thus far, getting pulled after 84. That likely signals that he’s all the way ramped up after the short spring training limited pitchers’ workloads across the league’s first few games.
Judge’s homers brought in three of the four runs, and for a nice change of pace, the fourth came from some contact hitting with two outs and runners in scoring position. The bottom of the fourth inning, which the Yankees began with a one-run lead, initially unfolded in a familiar fashion: strike out, walk, strike out. But Gleyber Torres kept the line moving with a single to center field, and Josh Donaldson’s heads up baserunning moved him from first to third. From there, he could waltz home on Isiah Kiner-Falefa’s single.
Those kinds of productive at-bats from the bottom of the order, particularly with two outs, are sometimes the things that separate bad teams from good ones and the pretty good from the legitimately great. It’s too early to tell which bucket these Yankees fall into, though everyone on the inside will tell you they’re firmly in the great one. The formula the Yankees used to beat Cleveland — a middling team with too much talent to stink — can absolutely work in the future, though.
Three hits and three RBI from Judge, solid, gutsy starting pitching, and enough well-timed contributions from the fringe guys will translate into wins against most teams. There’s still the 235-pound problem wearing Joey Gallo’s jersey, but we’ll get to that another day.
For Taillon — a man whose primary job is to keep the Yankees in the game rather than try to single-handedly win it for them — five quality innings ahead of what might be the league’s best bullpen is an ideal night. His start wasn’t without some traffic jams on the bases (the second was his only 1-2-3 inning), but Taillon hunkered down for big outs when he needed them.
None were more vital than his last of the evening. Nursing a 3-1 lead with two outs, top of the fifth inning, pitching coach Matt Blake went out to the mound for a chat. Standing between Taillon and the end of his day was Jose Ramirez. There has perhaps been no greater chore in Major League Baseball this month than getting Ramirez out. Ramirez, who for some reason never gets the full appreciation he deserves, came into the game with the most hits and RBI in the entire league. He also possessed its best batting average, a meteoric .426, making a hit almost as statistically likely as an out.
Taillon pulled the curtain back on what was said during the pivotal meeting on the mound.
“Just be careful,” Taillon said. “We were going over what we wanted to do. We didn’t want to let him take over the game. That’s kind of the plan there.”
Taillon got ahead of him with two quick strikes, one on a changeup he feathered to the outside corner, the other on a foul ball. After Ramirez watched two curveballs below the knees and fouled two more off, Taillon reached back for a fastball and found his best one. Ramirez could only turn the 96.8 mph offering — Taillon’s highest velocity of the night — into a lazy fly ball to center field.
“There was a huge crowd tonight so I had a lot of adrenaline,” Taillon said of his blazing pitch to Cleveland’s Silver Slugger. “I didn’t throw it where I wanted to. It was supposed to be up. But at least I put a little extra on it to maybe beat his barrel.”
Michael King was his usual self, oppressing hitters from the sixth through eighth inning, and coming one strikeout away from matching the franchise record of eight in a row. Aroldis Chapman supplied the finishing touches in the ninth for his fourth save of the year and 310th of his career. Following an uninspiring trip through Baltimore and Detroit, the Yankees got a much-needed win to begin their six-game homestand.