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Aaron Decide takes MLB lead in homers vs. Giants

SAN FRANCISCO — Aaron Judge remembers childhood afternoons spent in the seats of what is now known as Oracle Park, where he’d seek autographs from players like infielder Rich Aurilia, whom he identifies as his favorite Giant of that time period. His big league dreams were painted in orange and black, frequently imagining what it would be like to round those beautiful bases.

It wasn’t until the Yankees’ series opener in San Francisco on Friday, as Judge played his first career game in China Basin, that he got to live out that early fantasy — twice. Judge hit a three-run homer in the third inning and a solo shot in the sixth off San Francisco right-hander Jordan Hicks, putting the finishing touches on a monster May in a 6-2 Yankees victory.

“You dream about it in the backyard, playing around a little bit,” Judge said. “Rounding the bases, I looked out to left field, being in those bleachers a couple of times. It just brought back some memories. This is a special place. I grew up a Giants fan and loved coming to games out here. It’s pretty cool, being on the opposite side of the field.”

The Yankees have won 14 of 18 games, becoming the first American League team to reach 40 wins this season. With his 35th career multi-homer game, Judge claimed and padded his Major League home run lead with 20 — 14 of which have come in May.

Riding a 27-game on-base streak, Judge also became the first player in Yankees history to have at least 14 homers and 12 doubles in a single calendar month, surpassing Lou Gehrig, who had 12 homers and 12 doubles in July 1930.

Judge’s 38 extra-base hits in 59 games are the most all-time by a Yankee through May, as well, besting the previous record of 36 from Gehrig (in 43 games in 1927).

“What Judge is doing is incredible right now,” said Marcus Stroman, who tossed 7 1/3 innings in a winning effort. “His preparation is locked in. It’s amazing to witness what he’s able to do, because it’s a pretty historic run. I think we take it for granted sometimes.”

Added Anthony Rizzo: “It’s special every day, to play with him and see him work behind the scenes as an individual and as a teammate. You’ve got to appreciate it, because we are in the middle of greatness. It’s fun to watch.”

Judge, of course, could have been playing at Oracle Park much sooner.

Coming off his 62-homer performance in 2022, breaking Roger Maris’ 61-year-old American League record, the Giants offered Judge a nine-year, $360 million contract in free agency. Having grown up about 100 miles away in bucolic Linden, Calif., Judge seriously considered the offer, even touring the ballpark and dining with club officials. Even Judge’s parents, Patty and Wayne, were prepared for a homecoming.

There was the infamous “Arson Judge” tweet during that year’s Winter Meetings, the one that sent panic through the Yankees’ front office. Stepping out of a shower in his San Diego hotel room, manager Aaron Boone had shakily buzzed general manager Brian Cashman’s cell phone to ask: “Did we lose him?”

“I’ve said it the past couple of years — it was a while ago, but it was pretty close,” Judge said.

After much deliberation, Judge and his wife Samantha decided that they belonged in New York, hungry for another chance at delivering a championship title after the club’s elimination in that year’s American League Championship Series. Rizzo, one of Judge’s closest friends in the sport, had a front-row seat.

“He stays so even-keeled, but he was close to home,” Rizzo said. “This was a big decision.”

It took a sequence of late-night text messages and phone calls with Yankees managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner to seal the deal, with Steinbrenner agreeing to match San Francisco’s offer. As a bonus, Steinbrenner told Judge, he wanted to name him the club’s first captain since Derek Jeter.

“Ultimately, it was all able to work out,” Boone said before Friday’s game. “Aaron is, in my opinion, where I think he should be.”

Judge was booed before his first at-bat on Friday evening, but there were cheers heard after his home run, a drive that Hicks barely turned to witness. There was a sizable contingent of Yankees fans on hand, many of them accompanying Judge, who provided tickets for many friends and family members to be part of this weekend series years in the making.

“I didn’t hit any home runs in BP, so I was a little nervous,” Judge said. “Barry [Bonds] and a lot of those guys back in the day made it look pretty small at times. Once you step between the lines and dig in, you’ve got to lock it in and treat it like a baseball game. Once we stepped out there, it was time to go.”

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