There are so many things going right for the Yankees, in what has been a dream season for them so far, even more of one than the Mets are having, that you lose count sometimes. Which is the way it generally goes with dream seasons. Even when the Yankees temporarily lose Aroldis Chapman they replace him with someone — Clay Holmes — who looks like more of a closer than Chapman did before he got hurt.
Nestor Cortes hasn’t just been the surprise of the Yankee pitching staff, he has been the surprise of anybody’s pitching staff, with his 5-1 record and his 1.50 earned run average. He is the small Cuban-born lefty with some old Luis Tiant to him, and the kind of stuff that Whitey Ford would have appreciated, and one dazzling start after another.
Jameson Taillon nearly pitches a perfect game one night and Gerrit Cole comes back and looks like he might pitch his own perfect game the next night. The Yankees pick up Matt Carpenter and he starts hitting home runs and even with the way the bullpen has come back to earth lately, it has still been a huge part of the story so far.
But the story of the Yankee season, not even one full week into June, as the Yankees still have the best record in baseball, continues to be Aaron Judge. It is fair to wonder at this point just how big the big man’s season is going to be if he stays healthy.
Even with the record the Yankees have put together so far, no one else in the batting order was hitting .300 after Friday night’s pasting of the Tigers. Oh sure, Isiah Kiner-Falefa has exceeded offensive expectations. So has Alex Trevino, the new catcher. Anthony Rizzo is still hitting home runs and Giancarlo Stanton will probably start hitting them again when he is off the injured list. So people keep stepping out of the chorus to chip in.
But the guy out front is No. 99.
He isn’t just the Player of the Month in baseball. He is the Player of the Season, at least so far, even with the way Paul Goldschmidt keeps hitting in St. Louis. Judge hit another home run Friday night, his 20th. He got four more hits. His batting average went to .316. The player that we thought he was going to be when he hit 52 home runs as a rookie in 2017? Right now he is that player, in full.
Shohei Ohtani hasn’t been the best player, nor has Mike Trout. Mookie Betts, a former MVP, is having an MVP season for the Dodgers, and Pete Alonso has been tremendous for the Mets, and drove in a ton of runs himself in the month of May.
Judge has been the best and most dominant player in baseball across the first third of 2022. There is still a long way to go, of course, and he has gotten hurt before. Stanton was looking pretty ferocious himself before he went on the IL. Doesn’t change that Judge made it to 20 homers, through 52 games, after it was Yankees 13, Tigers 0 at the Stadium, and go ahead and do the math on that over a full season, because it’s not just fun, the possibilities of it all make your head want to explode.
Even people in outer space know by now that he and the Yankees couldn’t reach agreement on a contract extension before the season started. Everybody knows that the Yankees offered Judge a $230 million contract and that he turned it down. And if things don’t change between now and the end of the season, and nobody expects that they will, the Yankees won’t just be bidding against themselves the next time they talk long-term contract with Judge, they will be bidding against anybody who’s willing to spend $300 or $400 million on a 30-year-old guy who might have 60 homers in him.
He’s not just the face of the Yankees across the first third of the season. He’s the face of baseball right now. The Yankees would be a really, really good team this season because of the remarkable way they’ve pitched, after years and years and years when they never had enough pitching. But it is Judge, hitting wherever Aaron Boone hits them in the order, who makes them look great. He has hit 14 homers since the start of May, and shows no sign of slowing down now that we are into June.
We have wondered for a long time who the next great Yankee center fielder was going to be. This season, at least 17 times, it has been Judge. This was what he said about playing center the other day:
“The space and kind of control I feel like I can be a little more vocal, I can talk to the guys. I can move guys around a little bit more because I’m right there in the middle so I can see different things. What guys swings are, where the pitches are, because in right and left [field], you are kind of just reacting. You can’t really see it. ‘Hey, was that ball in and was that away?’ You know why they take a swing like that. So just being able to communicate a little bit more. Just kind of talk with Joey [Gallo] and Miguel [Andujar] or [Aaron Hicks], if he’s out there too. I just enjoy it. It’s part of the game out there.”
He is the first real team leader the Yankees have had since Derek Jeter. He hasn’t just embraced that role, hasn’t just embraced playing center when he’s been asked to do that. He has also embraced the pressure of his walk year. You know his injury history. He could go back on the IL tomorrow, and end up missing the number of games he missed in 2018 and 2019 and even 2020, when he missed more than half of a short 60-game season. Maybe then the $230 million will look a lot better. Just not now.
There really have been so many stars to this New York baseball season, on both sides of town, and that includes the manager of the Mets, Buck Showalter. Maybe things will look differently, on both sides of town, when Jacob deGrom and Max Scherzer are healthy. They’re not here. Aaron Judge is.
There’s no more talking, from either side, about the money. Nothing more to be said for now. Judge is letting his talent, at the plate and in the field, do all the talking right now.
Say it again: He is the best player on the best team and the best player in baseball right now. He hits home runs and goes up over the wall to take home runs away. Clearly, it is starting pitching that has made the Yankees so much better than they were supposed to be. Cortes in particular has been something to see. But No. 99 has been the one to watch. He didn’t go anywhere over the past few years. Still feels like he’s back. In a big way. Everything big about him right now. It’s why the Yankees feel bigger than they have in a long time.
WE’VE SEEN ENOUGH OF GALLO, STEPH IS SPECIAL & IGOR WORTHY HEIR APPARENT TO KING HENRIK …
Who did the Celtics think they were playing in Game 1, the Nets?
You know another reason why the Celtics are this close to a title and the Nets are as far away as ever?
The Celtics have Brad Stevens running their basketball operation and the Nets don’t.
Through Thursday’s doubleheader, Joey Gallo had 23 hits this season.
We are no longer talking about too small a sample size with Gallo.
He had played nearly 100 games with the Yankees at that point, and still wasn’t hitting .200.
Even though Steph Curry has played this long, and played on the best team of this era, I still love hearing that there are guys in the league replicating what he can do.
No, they’re not.
There’s his range, and everybody else’s, and that includes Trae Young at his best.
Because of that range, Curry has changed the way the game looks as much as anybody who has ever played it in the NBA.
The way Dr. J once did above the rim.
Rafa Nadal goes for his 14th French Open title on Sunday, and just the 13 he has won on the red clay at Roland Garros is as great an achievement as any athlete has ever had in any individual sport.
And if he does get to 14 on Sunday, and his 22nd major, then he makes it even more official that he, and not Fed and not Djokovic, is the GOAT in men’s tennis.
And you know something else?
I’m not sure Djokovic is some kind of lock to ever get to 23.
The chance Rob Thomson gets now that he’s replacing Joe Girardi is a chance that Thomson has earned, and much deserves.
“James Patterson by James Patterson,” the autobiography by my friend and co-writer, goes on sale this week, and I can tell you that it is an absolute blast.
So many people who’ve read an advance copy keep saying the same thing, and happen to be right:
Jim’s best story really is himself.
Has there ever been a time when Shohei Ohtani pitched at Yankee Stadium when the Yankees didn’t give him a tour of Beatdown City?
I have realized something over the past month, and that is how much I missed going to the movies.
I shouldn’t have to keep pointing this out about Chris Kreider, but he keeps proving that you really can never go wrong with a Boston College man.
There has never been much more of a tough act to follow in hockey in New York than Henrik Lundqvist.
But Igor Shesterkin has showed how you’re supposed to do something like that, and mightily.
The biggest and best voices from sports, and that means all sports, have to continue to talk about gun violence and gun reform.
Every week of every season of every year.
I keep asking this, but will ask it again today:
How in the world does Deshaun Watson not get suspended for part of the upcoming season or all of it by Roger Goodell?
How cool is it that Ray Romano is going to play Jimmy V?
Has Kyrie Irving weighed in yet on congressional redistricting?