KANSAS CITY — The Yankees came out firing offensively Friday night, jumping out to a three-run lead before the second out of the game was even recorded. DJ LeMahieu doubled, Anthony Rizzo clubbed a 415-foot homer and Giancarlo Stanton one-upped him with a 429-foot blast that brought the considerable Yanks delegation at Kauffman Stadium to its feet.
Lost in the mix was No. 2 batter Aaron Judge, who had a likely RBI knock stolen from him by a diving catch in center field and could only sit back and watch the early fireworks from the dugout. A couple hours later, though, he became the star of the show — something he’s done pretty often recently.
Judge was one of four Yankees to homer in a 12-2 win over the Royals, a rainy affair that was called after eight innings. His three-run shot in the seventh delivered the knockout blow in the series opener and secured the seventh straight win for the Yanks, who sit atop the American League East at 14-6.
The home run was Judge’s fifth during the winning streak and second homer in as many days, and it couldn’t have come in a bigger moment. After the Yankees claimed the early lead, the Royals battled back to make it 3-2 at the end of the second. Both offenses then went quiet, with neither team scoring again over the first six frames.
Following a LeMahieu hit that drove in a run with a single, Judge stepped in during the seventh and whiffed on the first pitch he saw from Dylan Coleman. He would not make that mistake again, turning on Coleman’s second offering and pushing it out against the wind and over the wall.
“That was a big boy homer the other way,” manager Aaron Boone said.
With three runs coming across in the first, it felt like the Yankees may run away with it early like they have this season. But those hopes quickly began to fade along with the lead, as Royals starter Kris Bubic settled in to retire 14 of the next 15 batters he faced following Stanton’s homer.
Despite the slowed pace of attack, the Yankees weren’t at all worried. According to Rizzo, in situations like this one, New York can easily take solace in knowing another big hit is right around the corner.
“Judgey breaking it open there in the [seventh] and us scoring nine late was also another energizing thing for this team,” Rizzo said. “You know, [there are] innings where we don’t score runs, but we just know the whole time there’s big numbers on the way.”
The Yankees also could breathe a sigh of relief knowing they had Nestor Cortes on the mound, as he’s been nothing but steady this season. Much like Bubic, he got into some early trouble but settled down, finishing with two runs (one earned) allowed over five innings.
“It was a weird night out there, with the wind and some things,” Boone said. “It was really good to see him, when it wasn’t necessarily easy … [that] he still made pitches when he had to, and gave us a strong five innings on a night when he was kind of grinding.”
Much of Cortes’ success came via his cutter, which he’s established as one of the best pitches in the Majors this season and threw for 28 of his 82 pitches on Friday.
“He’s a pitcher, man. He knows what he’s doing out there,” said Judge. “Really working that cutter well, it’s like an unhittable pitch right now. … It’s fun to play behind.”
As the season continues on, the Yankees likely won’t be able to replicate offensive performances like this as often as they’d like. They’re still likely to finish near the top of the AL in runs, homers and wins, but they won’t all come at the rate they have over the past week.
Judge knows that, though, and he knows that the best approach to take is not to chase after exciting, pour-it-on wins like this one. If he and his teammates can stay committed to what they know works, the wins will come.
“All I’m really focused on is trying to get on base for the guys behind me,” Judge said. “We’ve got some boppers behind me doing their thing, and DJ in front of me. … My job’s simple, just try to touch first base and let the other guys do their thing.”
If everyone can follow that same goal — as they did on Friday night — the sky’s the limit.
“We saw it there in the first inning, they already had a guy warming up after just four or five batters,” said Judge. “Just continue to have quality at-bats, man. We do that, you know, good things are going to happen.”