Home services

Aaron Choose hits 2 residence runs in San Francisco debut as Yankees torch Giants

SAN FRANCISCO — Two winters ago, the San Francisco Giants opened their heart and their checkbook to free agent Aaron Judge. They allowed themselves to feel genuine optimism for the better part of a day that he’d sign. Their most fervent hopes turned out to be false ones created by a slipshod social media post that misspelled the superstar slugger’s name.

But maybe it’s worth revisiting Arson Judge. Maybe that typo represented a smidge of unintended editorial license. Because on a chilly Friday night, when the New York Yankees’ power hitter played the first game of his career at the Giants’ waterfront ballpark, he all but torched the place.

Booed in every plate appearance by jilted Giants fans, Judge sent a three-run home run into the left-field bleachers in the third inning. He added a solo shot to center in the sixth. He continued his scorching month of May and delighted the clusters of Yankees fans who infiltrated the stands at 24 Willie Mays Plaza while he powered the visitors to a 6-2 victory in this interleague series opener.

Every home defeat involves a measure of disappointment. On this night, the disappointment from Giants fans peeled off in layers. The sight of this ballpark twice failing to contain Judge’s power, the sight of him rounding the bases, and the sight of his post-homer choreography in front of the visitors dugout — all of it could be viewed through a wistful lens.

So this is what it would’ve been like.

“It was close,” Judge said, asked to revisit his 2-year-old decision. “I’ve said it. It was a while ago, but it was pretty close. They have a great organization here, great team, great pitching staff, great young guys coming up. We just ended up going to New York.”

The Giants had to try. They had the itch for a superstar and enough scratch to sign one. They knew that Judge grew up a Giants fan — Rich Aurilia was his favorite player, Jonathan Sanchez once autographed his hat — while growing up the son of schoolteachers in the Central Valley. Perhaps the local tie wasn’t enough to draw Judge away from the legend he was building in New York. And the game’s ultimate alpha franchise almost never gets outbid for a player it wants. But it was worth a shot. So the Giants hosted Judge at the ballpark and set up a private dinner for him and his family in the Gotham Club. They met every contract demand. They were one year removed from a 107-win season and tried to sell Judge on visions of anchoring another dynastic run.

Maybe in retrospect it seems obvious that Judge was going back to the Yankees. Maybe it’s hard to view the Giants as anything more than a stalking horse for a superstar whose clear preference was to continue to burnish his legacy in New York.

But that’s not how it felt at the time — even to those close to the process.

“Very much. Yeah,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said, asked if he was on pins and needles in December 2022. “That’s a good way of putting it. It was an uncomfortable 24, 36 hours, to say the least.”

Even today, there are some in the Giants’ front office who believe that the “Arson Judge appears headed to Giants” post from New York Post writer Jon Heyman sufficiently spooked Yankees chairman Hal Steinbrenner into adding the ninth year and tacking on $40 million to their $360 offer that met what Judge had been seeking. There was a real sense within the Giants’ inner circle that Judge’s patience with the Yankees had reached its limits — and that a last-minute dalliance from the San Diego Padres, despite offering generous financial terms, hadn’t been persuasive enough.

But Giants chairman Greg Johnson knew all along that San Francisco’s waterfront ballpark, and its homer-minimizing reputation, was a detrimental factor. Johnson revisited those opinions earlier this week while appearing as a guest on Tim Kawakami’s podcast.

“To go get a Bryce Harper or a (Shohei) Ohtani, or a Judge, for that matter, I think we’re the fifth-hardest park to hit home runs in Major League Baseball,” Johnson said. “So that makes it a little bit more difficult to go out there and get a home run hitter. We’re pleased with where we are. We were aggressive in going after them and that’s all we can really do.”

Judge never had a chance to test the dimensions at 24 Willie Mays Plaza before Friday. He never took swings as part of a draft showcase here. When the Yankees made their last interleague series visit in 2019, he was on the injured list with a strained oblique.

“This was the first time digging in,” Judge said. “This is baseball right here. Watching for years on TV and coming as a fan, it was pretty cool digging in.”

So was pregame batting practice. Even if he didn’t hit a single ball over the fence.

“So I was a little nervous,” Judge said, smiling. “Barry (Bonds) and a lot of those guys back in the day made it look pretty small at times. I had a lot of fun hitting BP today, for sure.”

His actual at-bats were even more memorable. He reached on a generously scored single in the first inning after his 110.9 mph grounder bounced off the chest of shortstop Brett Wisely. When Judge stepped to the plate again in the third, the situation dripped venom. Anthony Volpe and Juan Soto had hit one-out singles against right-hander Jordan Hicks to put runners at the corners.

Hicks threw a two-strike sinker on the outer edge. Judge flicked it foul. Hicks baited Judge with a sweeping slider off the plate. Judge got a piece to stay alive. When Hicks came back with a splitter that flattened out, Judge pulled his hands inside and got the barrel to it.

“You catch a top-three hitter in the game in the best month of his career, probably, I’ve got to tip my cap,” Hicks said. “He hit some solid pitches. Obviously I wish I could have one or two of them back. Just don’t get in three-ball counts to him. That’s my best advice.”

Aaron Judge rounds the bases after his sixth-inning home run against Giants pitcher Jordan Hicks, far left. (Darren Yamashita / USA Today)

The ballpark reaction as Judge rounded the bases was a mix of cheering Yankees fans and the much louder boos of Giants fans determined to drown them out.

“Rounding the bases, I kind of looked out to left field and (remembered) being out in those bleachers a couple times,” Judge said. “It just brought back memories. It’s a special place. Grew up a Giants fan, loved coming to games out here. So it’s pretty cool to be on the opposite side of the field.”

Being on the opposite side of Judge, especially this month, is more perilous than a lion enclosure. He became the first hitter this season to reach the 20-homer mark. His on-base streak of 27 games is the longest active streak in the major leagues. His 26 extra-base hits in May are tied for the third most in any month in Yankees history. With 277 career homers, he moved past Jorge Posada to occupy eighth on the franchise’s all-time list. He’s hit 14 home runs in a month for the second time in his career. The only other Yankees to accomplish that feat are Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle, Joe DiMaggio and Roger Maris.

In a season when so many superstars are posting pedestrian numbers, Judge leads the major leagues in home runs, walks, slugging percentage and OPS. He entered Friday hitting .355/.479/.871 in May and led the Yankees to a 21-7 record during the month.

“Just a great player,” Boone said. “You think you’d stop being surprised, but … it’s hard to wrap your brain around what he’s doing. He just kind of does his thing. He’s so consistent with who he is as a person and a player and the way he goes about it. It’s just fun to get to watch it.

“Being here in San Francisco, it felt big. It felt exciting to be here. And obviously Aaron, being from close by here and coming back, tonight had a little extra energy to it. And then he throws a three-ball up there and says, ‘Here we go.’

“I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t at least looking forward to what he did today. And he showed up pretty impressively.”

Judge filled two suites with friends and family. They came from Linden, the town near Stockton where he grew up before enrolling at Fresno State. Perhaps there was a time in his boyhood, while listening to Mike Krukow and Duane Kuiper on the telecast, that he pictured wearing a cream-colored home uniform here. Then he became a professional. The vision and the dream changed. There were other practicalities to consider, other factors that held sway.

Friday night, Judge could pretend to experience two dreams at once.

“Kruk and Kuip, I’ve heard them for years call the games,” Judge said. “All the homers Barry hit here, pretty cool. I was happy to come away with one.”

And then another. The Giants managed to retire Judge only in the eighth inning, when 6-foot-11 right-hander Sean Hjelle won a matchup of pituitary might by getting the 6-foot-7 slugger to fly out to right field.

It’ll be Logan Webb’s turn to contend with Judge on Saturday, followed by Blake Snell in Sunday’s series finale. At least there is this: Regardless of how much more incendiary damage Judge does in this series, the burn will last for only so long. Unlike Ohtani, who plays for the Giants’ NL West archrivals, Judge and the Yankees will visit only every other year.

(Top photo of Aaron Judge’s third-inning home run Friday: Thearon W. Henderson / Getty Images)

Source link

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button