The homers keep coming for Aaron Judge

Yankees phenom shows no sign of slowing down as historic pace continues
Aaron Judge watches a mammoth blast in Sunday's win over the Orioles.|Art or Photo Credit: AP

The homers keep coming from Aaron Judge, homers that cause everyone, from his teammates to the beer vendors, to stop, stare and wonder just how far the baseball traveled. Judge blasts majestic homers and memorable homers, the kind of missiles that dominate the conversation and make observes blink and squint and try to absorb what they just witnessed.
On a sweltering Sunday, Judge attacked a slider from Logan Verrett and hammered it a whopping 495 feet at Yankee Stadium. It was so majestic, so memorable, that Didi Gregorius climbed atop the dugout bench and looked like he needed binoculars to locate the vanishing baseball. In Judge's next at bat, he lined Jimmy Yacabonis's fastball for a bullet of a homer, a more pedestrian shot that journeyed 402 feet off his bat.
The Yankees still have 102 games left, but, If the season ended today, Judge would be the American League's Most Valuable Player and he would also be a Triple Crown winner with his totals of a .344 average, 21 homers and 47 runs batted in. Yes, there's a major chunk of the schedule remaining, but, up until now, there hasn't been a better player in the A.L. than the man who struck out once every two at bats in 2016.
"I'm just concerned with us putting as many wins in the win column as we can," Judge said, continuing his mantra of pledging team over player.
When I asked Judge what type of adjustments he has made, he mentioned the mental side of the game. If Judge missed a hittable pitch early in the at bat last year, he would let that mistake fester and influence the rest of the at bat. Since hitters are told that they might only get one good pitch to hit in an at bat, Judge feared that he had lost his best chance to get a hit and that approach doomed him.
For instance, if a pitcher threw a hittable fastball that caught the inside corner and Judge didn't swing at it or missed it, he would still be thinking about that pitch as the second pitch was coming. Then Judge might wave at a slider that bent out of the strike zone. Now the pitcher was ahead 0-2 and Judge was at his mercy, probably flailing at another pitch. The first strike spoiled the entire at bat.
But, in a phenomenal 2017, Judge has reminded himself to focus on the next pitch, not any previous pitches. When pitchers get ahead of him, Judge doesn't let one mistake bleed into the next pitch. He assesses the pitch and makes adjustments, but he no longer frets about what he might have missed or might have done wrong. How did he adapt to making that change?
"You have to tell yourself you're good, too," Judge said. "Those guys out there might drive Mercedes and Audis, but you're pretty good, too."
For the always humble and always team-oriented Judge, even saying he is "good" is a rare statement. Obviously, Judge is much better than good. He's been great for the Yankees, an inspiring personal story within an intriguing team story. The Yankees weren't expected to be in first place in the A.L. East, but they are. Judge definitely wasn't expected to be the frontrunner for the M.V.P., but he is. And, based on the discipline he's displaying in chasing fewer pitches outside of the strike zone, I don't think this is a two-month aberration. Judge will be a very good hitter for a very long time.
Technically speaking, Judge said that he has worked on staying anchored on his back leg so that his body doesn't tilt forward. Judge was anxious at the plate last year and he would begin his swing and find himself reaching and lunging for outside pitches. When he stays back and stays anchored, as he's doing now, Judge is in a much more comfortable hitting position and he can recognize pitches more quickly and react to them better.
As the Yankees begin a seven-game West Coast trip in Anaheim tonight, there will be fans who forsake their usual bedtimes to stay up and watch Judge's at bats. The Yankees have a relentless and ferocious lineup, but there is something different, very different, when Judge is hitting. Everyone stops and stares at the mighty Judge, watching and waiting for the next majestic or memorable home run.