The case for Aaron Judge’s MVP bid is only getting heftier — much like his price tag.
Judge continued his monster season Friday night, with both his bat and his glove, to lift the Yankees to a comeback 11-5 win over the Royals in The Bronx.
After starting off the game by robbing MJ Melendez of a home run in the first inning, Judge crushed his 40th and 41st home runs of the season — the second a grand slam to cap an eight-run eighth inning by which the Yankees regained the lead for good.
“Historical,” Gerrit Cole said. “I haven’t seen anything quite like this, this much, from anybody, really. I don’t think I’ve played with a guy that’s hit 40 homers. It’s July. So I’m rooting for him. I wish I could have my phone on the bench like the rest of the fans who take a video every one of his at-bats.
“It’s kind of just a steady dose of amazingness every day. Pretty inspiring.”
Judge’s first home run, a two-run shot that traveled 449 feet, gave the Yankees (68-33) a 3-0 lead in the third inning. The second went 370 feet and put them ahead 11-5 after they had entered the eight inning trailing 5-3. The pending free agent has now hit 11 home runs in his last 13 games.
Judge became the first Yankee since Roger Maris in 1961 to reach the 40-homer mark before August, and joined Babe Ruth (1928, 1921) as the only players in franchise history with 41 homers through the first 101 games of a season.
A night after ending the game with a home run, Judge began the game Friday with a home run robbery. Starting in right field for the first time since July 10, Judge raced back to the wall, leaped and used all of his 6-foot-7 frame to reach over and bring back what would have been a leadoff home run by Melendez.
“Maybe you should give him three [home runs] tonight,” manager Aaron Boone said. “Maybe we should get him up to 42 with the robbery right out of the gate. Just a special player doing really amazing things.”
While Judge is now on pace for 66 home runs, he shrugged off all the eye-popping stats he has augmented to this point in the season.
“Like I’ve said 1,000 times, I’m focused on winning baseball games right now,” Judge said. “The stats and stuff like that, we can talk about that at the end of the year.”
After a defensive miscue by Isiah Kiner-Falefa (a hard one-hopper bounced past him) gave way to a five-run fifth inning by the Royals (39-61) against Cole, the Yankees shortstop found redemption in the eighth inning, following has 23-minute rain delay.
First, after a Judge strikeout, Anthony Rizzo hit an infield single and Gleyber Torres singled up the middle. Then, the Yankees got some help from Royals shortstop Maikel Garcia, who bobbled a potential inning-ending double play ball hit by Josh Donaldson, leaving the bases loaded with one out.
Andrew Benintendi came up next and recorded his first hit as a Yankee, an RBI infield single to first base that cut the deficit to 5-4. After Aaron Hicks tried to argue he had been hit by a pitch, he ended up drawing a walk to drive in the tying run.
Kiner-Falefa then got payback, ripping a single through the left side to put the Yankees up 6-5 and extend his hitting streak to a career-high 15 games.
After Jose Trevino added an insurance run with an RBI groundout, DJ LeMahieu walked to reload the bases. Judge followed with his grand slam, which finished off the Yankees’ league-leading 29th comeback win of the year.
“We talked a little bit during the rain delay and that kind of locked us all back in and got us back to what we do,” Judge said. “I feel like every year, we play every game a little better when our backs are against the wall.”