It's all about October as Aaron Judge returns to the Yankees

ByColey Harvey ESPN logo
Wednesday, September 19, 2018

NEW YORK -- As he kicked the dirt in the Yankee Stadium batter's box, Aaron Judge looked down at his feet and paused.

An ovation still echoed around the park. The slugger, absent for nearly eight weeks due to a wrist injury, was being celebrated for his return to action. He took an extra beat or two to let the cheers subside.

Before this moment Tuesday night, the last time he'd stood in this spot during a game was a painful one. A 94 mph fastball hit him on the outside of his right wrist, breaking a bone.

The 54 days Judge spent shelved because of that injury made the New York Yankees and their fans long for this moment. Now, it's all about even sweeter moments deep into October.

"If the guys keep swinging the bats and start getting hot here, we're going to be a pretty big force here," Judge said, thinking about the very near future. "This is the time to get hot."

For the Yankees to get hot, though, they'll need Judge to return quickly to the form that made him the home-run-hitting, doubles-driving, walk-drawing on-base terror he's been the past two seasons.

Judge doesn't believe he's too far away from being that player, even after an 0-for-4 showing in his return.

"I felt like I didn't even miss six or seven weeks when I first stepped in the box. The first at-bat, I knew," Judge said.

His confidence reached its peak the day before, when he went through an off-day simulated game. In it, Judge faced three pitchers across 11 at-bats. After that workout, he told manager Aaron Boone and others he was ready to get back in the lineup.

"I said, 'Hey, I'm going to be in there. So let's get this thing moving,'" Judge said.

He wasted little time Tuesday in showing that the ulnar styloid bone in his right wrist had healed from its chip fracture. In his first at-bat, Judge followedAndrew McCutchen'sleadoff strikeout by slapping a hard first-pitch line drive into right field.

Judge hit the 112 mph liner right at Boston's J.D. Martinez, who barely moved to record the out.

"We looked up, 112 the other way? That's pretty good," Boone said with a smile.

Like the way he anchored his feet in the box prior to that first-inning at-bat, Judge these past two days has laid the foundation for what the remainder of this year can be, both for him and for the Yankees.

"To know that he's playing in that 2-spot, that kind of lengthens the lineup, and it takes pressure off everybody else," Yankees infielder Neil Walker-- Tuesday night's hero -- said. "We feel like our best ball's ahead of us, and that lineup is going to be the problem it was when Judgey was back in the lineup."

In those days prior to Judge's July 26 injury, the Yankees' right fielders had collectively hit .273 with a .918 OPS. Across the stretch when Judge was absent, that same unit batted .187 with a .652 OPS. Judge's absence also saw the Yankees go 26-22, after they were 65-36 before he got hurt.

Clearly, the superstar's presence affects the entire team.

"He was like it was a big game, in midseason form," Boone said of Judge's return Tuesday. "He just had a good presence on the bench and a good edge to him that you could feel in the dugout.

"I know just getting to know Aaron over this past year, he's a special person. So I'm not surprised he comes in with an edge, a focus and an ability to lock in in a hurry. He was in a good place all night long, just with his presence, with who he is and the at-bats he was able to have."

Last weekend, Boone said he thought it might take Judge around 30-to-40 at-bats to get his timing back. The way Boone had those at-bats mapped out, he believed they'd correlate to the final weekend of the regular season and the start of the postseason.

To his credit, Judge believed he didn't need that long. He felt the timing could come instantly. It looks like it might have.

Impatience isn't part of Judge's personality and makeup, but he does believe the Yankees can't wait for him and other hitters to lock it in -- no matter how long he has been out of the order. With home field for the American League wild-card game still in play -- and so much left in October to play for -- Judge believes now is the time to set the foundation for a run reminiscent of the first half of New York's season.

"This is the time to get hot. There's no time to wait," he said. "We can't wait until the postseason and try to flick a switch and fire things up. We've got to start right now."

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