Play­off slump not weigh­ing on Yan­kees’ Aaron Judge

The Province - - SPORTS - ROB LON­G­LEY rlon­g­ley@post­

HOUS­TON — Like any­one wowed by a hu­man’s abil­ity to get a bat to drive a ball to the outer reaches of dis­tance and ve­loc­ity, Aaron Judge’s New York Yan­kees love to watch him do his thing.

They gather around the cage at bat­ting prac­tice as he swings for fences, walls and what­ever other ob­sta­cles are on the hori­zon.

And even though they could use the bat that blasted an MLB rookie-record 52 home runs more than ever right now, no­body around the Yan­kees seems to be sweat­ing the fact that Judge is in the most no­table slump of his young ca­reer.

In no way is Judge viewed as a larger-than-life char­ac­ter among this un­likely group of Yan­kees, a team that is mo­ti­vated and in the process of turn­ing the 2017 post-sea­son on its ear.

And for pub­lic con­sump­tion, in no way is this team re­ly­ing on the 6-foot-7 slug­ger to carry them to their first World Se­ries ap­pear­ance since 2009.

Of course, that’s prob­a­bly a good thing, given that Judge was a meek 1-for-20 in the fiveg­ame se­ries win against Cleve­land and, with 16 strike­outs, set a du­bi­ous record for the most whiffs in a sin­gle play­off se­ries.

So what gives with the Yanks’ No. 2 hit­ter, who will try to snap out of it in Game 1 of the be­stof-seven se­ries on Fri­day night here at Minute Maid Park?

“He’s just faced a re­ally good team when it comes to their pitch­ing staff,” Yan­kees man­ager Joe Gi­rardi said on Thurs­day. “I thought (In­di­ans pitch­ers) just made a ton of good pitches on him. I think there were some bor­der­line calls that didn’t go his way, but they made a lot of good pitches.”

Gi­rardi’s sub­tle mes­sage to the um­pires aside, just how Judge re­sponds could go a long way to de­cid­ing this se­ries. Sure, there’s pick-me-up sup­port from play­ers such as short­stop Didi Gre­go­rius, whose two home runs in Game 5 at Cleve­land es­sen­tially fu­elled the team char­ter to Texas.

But at the rate the Astros score, this se­ries could be short­ened con­sid­er­ably if Judge doesn’t at least con­trib­ute at the plate.

“It’s sim­i­lar to what ev­ery­body goes through in the game,” Judge said, ad­dress­ing his slump in the vis­i­tors club­house on Thurs­day af­ter the weary Yan­kees went through an off-day work­out. “It’s just part of it. They make a lot of qual­ity pitches and you’ve just got to tip your cap.

“You can’t give up. You keep fight­ing, try to make ad­just­ments … it’s all you can re­ally do.”

As com­posed as Judge has been this sea­son, there was some vis­i­ble frus­tra­tion in Game 5 against the In­di­ans. In part, it was recog­ni­tion of the stakes at play and in part per­haps he won­dered if the funk was for real.

“It wasn’t weigh­ing on me at all,” Judge said. “Ev­ery day is a new day. Ev­ery time I step on the field, I want to con­trib­ute.

“It’s just tough in cer­tain sit­u­a­tions when you go out there and want to pro­duce for your team and you don’t get the job done, es­pe­cially in a big sit­u­a­tion like that. It’s Game 5. It’s all on the line.

“Some emo­tions come out here and there, but it’s a re­ac­tion to the now. I can’t do any­thing about the past.”

The Yan­kees are de­cided and de­served un­der­dogs against the Astros in the ALCS, a role they thrived on with their his­toric come­back against Cleve­land. The Astros have the edge both in of­fence and start­ing pitch­ing, but Gi­rardi is hop­ing for the lat­ter area to be closer in what has the po­ten­tial to be an in­trigu­ing se­ries.

Masahiro Tanaka, who was bril­liant in his pre­vi­ous two out­ings, will get the start in Fri­day’s opener fol­lowed by Luis Sev­erino in Game 2 on Satur­day and CC Sa­bathia and Sonny Gray for the fol­low­ing two next week in the Bronx. Gray hasn’t pitched since Sept. 28, but threw a sim­u­lated game from the mound here late Thurs­day.

“(The Astros) are a club that scores a lot of runs, but doesn’t swing and miss very much,” Gi­rardi said.

“They’re go­ing to hit their home runs, but they’re go­ing to do a lot of other things of­fen­sively, so you need to make pitches.

“This is a very dan­ger­ous lineup … we didn’t have a lot of suc­cess against Cleve­land dur­ing the reg­u­lar sea­son but we pitched bet­ter dur­ing the play­offs, and you hope that holds true here.”

The same hopes will be car­ried to the other side of the ball as well. The Yan­kees couldn’t hit the In­di­ans’ Corey Klu­ber dur­ing the reg­u­lar sea­son, but ate him up in the ALDS.

They may need the same against Game 1 (and if nec­es­sary, Game 5) starter Dal­las Keuchel. And a big-swing­ing Aaron Judge would be a good place to start.


Rookie slug­ger Aaron Judge will have to break out of his 1-for-20 post­sea­son slump for the Yan­kees to have any hope of up­set­ting the Astros in the ALCS.

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