The Yankees pulled off a stirring comeback, winning 6-4 over Houston in Game 4 of the ALCS. New York trailed 4-0 heading into the bottom of the seventh, and had managed only one hit off Lance McCullers Jr. Aaron Judge homered leading off the bottom of the seventh to begin the comeback.
“With our offense we’re never out of a ballgame,” Judge said. “We’ve been in that situation before, been down a couple of runs, down two, three, four runs, it doesn’t matter with our team. We’re going to keep fighting, keep putting out quality at-bats, and that’s what we did.”
Didi Gregorius tripled and scored to make it 4-2. In the bottom of the eighth, the Yankees scored on an RBI groundout from Brett Gardner, a double off the wall from Judge, and a two-run double to right-center from Gary Sanchez.
It was Judge who came to the plate with the tying run on third and one out in the bottom of the eighth. The raucous Yankee Stadium fans weren’t the only ones expecting Judge to deliver. “I think I’m probably caught up in it, anticipating he’s going to do something great because we’ve seen it so many times this year,” Girardi said. “We’ve see hit from a number of our players. But it’s like, I like this situation.”
Judge’s home run woke up the Bronx faithful that had been silenced after Houston scored three times in the top of the sixth to break a scoreless tie. The YMCA crowd participation was not as enthusiastic as usual and then the Astros scored an unearned run in the seventh. The Yankees were close to falling behind 3-1 with Dallas Keuchel pitching tomorrow.
“I thought Aaron’s home run lit a little spark,” Girardi said. “We’ve seen that before. We saw it in a game earlier in the season. I think we were down 9-1 to Baltimore and it lit a little spark, and I thought it did again today.”
There had been some questions about how Judge could handle the postseason, although a bit of that is unfair considering he homered in the Wild Card game against the Twins, which was his first playoff game. And had he not robbed a home run in Game 3 of the ALDS, the Yankees likely would’ve been swept by Cleveland.
However, Judge did strike out a staggering 16 times in five games against the Indians. (Tony Gwynn struck out 15 times during the 1995 season.) Nobody doubts he can crush mistakes from pitchers but how about when he’s facing the best night in and night out? He scuffled against Dallas Keuchel and Justin Verlander in the first two games of the ALCS, although you could fairly ask who didn’t?
Perhaps the big hits from Judge and Sanchez can propel them for the rest of the series. “It just continues giving them confidence,” Girardi said. “And I look up and down the board in other series and you see guys are struggling. It’s such a short sample size, that I think our guys have done a good job not getting caught up in it. You’re seeing the best pitching staffs. You’re seeing good starters, strong bullpens. And I think it’s one day at a time, it’s one at-bat at a time. And those guys came up big for us today.”
This is a long way from spring training, back when it was thought that Judge, who hit .179 at the end of last season, might be a platoon player if he wasn’t in the minors on Opening Day. Instead, he was named the starting right fielder and went on to hit 52 home runs.
“In mid March there was a lot of unknowns,” Judge said. “There was talks of you’re going back to Triple-A, you’re not going to be the starting right fielder, or are we going to platoon you and some other outfielders. There was some unknowns. I knew what I was capable of, I wanted to go out and prove it. Making the decision where I’m going to go is out of my hands. But that doesn’t mean I can’t put in the work and make the decision on them tough.”
That he put his ALDS struggles behind him with home runs on consecutive nights should be of little surprise. This is the same slugger who was dreadful for two months and then hit 15 home runs in September. “This whole year has been a grind,” Judge said. “The ups and downs, that’s baseball life. That’s what I live for, play for. To a certain extent I enjoy failure. It’s part of the game. There’s always room to grow, there’s room to improve. So it’s been a fun ride. And it’s my first year, still pretty crazy.”
Yankee Stadium was reinvigorated after Judge’s homer and reached a fever pitch after Sanchez’s go-ahead double.
“It was special again tonight,” Girardi said. “Every home game has been special. I just feel like the fans are back. And I see things that I haven’t seen in a while and it reminds me a lot when I was playing there. So it’s been fun to watch.”