He trotted from center field when Starling Marte’s practice line landed harmlessly in the left field grass. He glanced briefly at the pile of merry Mets trying to crush Marte at first base. Citi Field hadn’t waited for the ball to hit the ground before the home team game of 43,693 that had packed the court for the second night in a row began celebrating in the Mets’ 3-2 win.
Aaron Judge reached the canoe, shook his head gently. Two Yankees fans behind the third base dugout cheered before Judge disappeared into the clubhouse. It was the Yankees’ 10th loss in 15 games. They are 11-13 in July. There are no alarm bells yet, not an 11½ game lead in the AL East.
Still, a guy can get used to winning every day, just like a guy can get used to hitting a home run every day. It’s mostly been that kind of year for Judge. Not this time.
“We’re still one of the best teams in the game,” he said, after gloating over the Yankees’ acquisition of former Red Sox baseman Andrew Benintendi, most recently from the Royals. “I wouldn’t judge our season after a few weeks.
“Fifteen games do not determine a season. If we win, 12 out of 15 people will go back to wondering what went so well. It’s a long season we have.
And Aaron Boone, whose tone this year becomes more defiant in times of crisis: “We are unfazed. We know where we are going. »
It was an annoying night for the Yankees and a vexing night for Judge, who hasn’t had too many this year. He went 0 for 5, blocked out five runners. Three times he hit against Max Scherzer of the Mets, who was splendid in seven five-hit innings.
In the seventh, Scherzer and Judge teamed up for perhaps the most electric streak of a New York baseball summer that shocked them. The Mets were leading 2-0 — though it should have looked more like 4-0 or 5-0 — and Scherzer had just walked DJ LeMahieu to put the runners in the corners with two outs.
At that time, we reached the first peak of the baseball season.
At that point, we had Scherzer vs. Judge, certain future Hall of Famer vs. a likely MVP. Ace against slugger. Superstar versus superstar. Sometimes even the most interesting baseball games can feel like they’re happening at half speed. Then you get Scherzer vs. Judge. And you could have lit up the city.
Scherzer won the duel, stoking Judge on a nasty slider, his 99th throw of the night, then he raised his fists and clapped hands to every teammate on his way through the dugout. But it felt like the Yankees might have taken a break, too: Scherzer had clearly emptied his tank against Judge, thinking there was no reason not to. That meant the Mets had to go to the bullpen.
And five pitches in the bottom of the eighth, 2-0 had become 2-2 on a blast from David Peterson’s Gleyber Torres, a quality pitcher who looked perfectly petrified in the moment. That meant Judge would get another crack against the Mets, this time in the ninth, this time against Seth Lugo, this time with LeMahieu up front.
This time, Yankees fans in the crowd raised their voices to the sky. Mets fans…well, if you could describe what a collective sip looks like, that would define it best. Judge hasn’t just been good this year, he’s heartbroken late in the game. And Buck Showalter knew that better than anyone.
“Nobody’s handling it,” the Mets manager said, “you’re just trying to contain it.”
Lugo did that. He landed two quick strikes, wasted a curveball, then went with a slider. The judge made solid contact. But the ball jumped straight to Francisco Lindor at short notice. The Mets had contained it once again. Ten minutes later, they piled into first base.
Difficult evening at the office for Judge. Hard stretch of the season for the Yankees. And a difficult task, eyeball to eyeball with Scherzer.
“He’s one of the best in the game for a reason,” Judge said. “You can’t expand the area too much. I have to stay in my zone but he made me extend it and made some great throws.
The Yankees will be fine, and so will Judge. By the time these teams meet again next month, the Yankees will certainly be very different, with Benintendi and Giancarlo Stanton in the fold, and who knows who else. The judge will be there too. And he will aim for comfortable walls and gaps. See you in August.