Red Sox opt for cautious Aaron Judge approach

The Red Sox insisted they were going to attack Aaron Judge.

They weren’t going to pitch around him unless the situation dictated it. If he made history because of that aggressiveness, so be it.

That, however, wasn’t really the case until his final at-bat Thursday night, and it nearly resulted in the superstar outfielder tying the Yankees’ single-season home run record.

After Red Sox pitchers Michael Wacha and John Schreiber walked Judge three times in his first four trips to the plate, Matt Barnes challenged him in the ninth inning with a 2-2, 96 mph fastball up in the strike zone. Judge sent it 404 feet to dead center field, where it was caught two steps in front of the fence by Enrique Hernandez in the Yankees’ 5-4, 10-inning victory in The Bronx.

“With all due respect to Aaron Judge — he’s a great person and he’s having an unbelievable season — I’m trying to get him out,” Barnes said. “I, frankly, don’t care about history. We’ve got a ballgame to win, you know what I mean? If I give up a homer, the game’s over. I’m sure he does it at some point this season, and I’ll congratulate him and everything. … I’m going to come after him. It’s just who I am.”

New York Yankees right fielder Aaron Judge #99 takes ball four to walk during the first inning.
Aaron Judge didn’t see a whole lot of pitches to hit on Thursday.
Charles Wenzelberg / New York Po

Judge entered play just a homer shy of Roger Maris’ Yankee and American League single-season home run record, with 60 in what has been one of the greatest offensive seasons in recent memory. He is also the AL leader in homers, RBIs and batting average.

He only saw six strikes in his first four at-bats. Each of the 13 balls thrown his way drew loud boos from the large crowd of 43,123. On Wednesday night, Pirates reliever Eric Stout pitched around Judge in the eighth inning of a lopsided game and heard thunderous boos. Red Sox manager Alex Cora and Friday night starter Rich Hill both said the Red Sox would not pitch that way, but Wacha and Schreiber did somewhat follow the Stout game plan.

Judge didn’t see a single strike from Wacha in his first at-bat. In the third, he walked on a full-count offering and struck out in the fifth, as Judge fell to 0-for-15 lifetime against the right-hander with 10 strikeouts. It made sense for the Red Sox to put Judge on in the seventh after Kyle Higashioka’s leadoff double. But Schreiber pitched to him, only to walk Judge on five pitches.

Rich Hill #44 of the Boston Red Sox pitches
Aaron Judge’s next chance at No. 61 comes against veteran Rich Hill.
Getty Images

“Like I said before the game, we’re going to manage the game to win it,” Cora said. “There were certain situations [where] we attacked him, he fouled off some pitches and he laid off some others. I think overall everybody did what we wanted.”

Maybe Friday night will be different with Hill on the mound. The 42-year-old, soft-tossing left-hander faced Barry Bonds in 2006 as a member of the Cubs. Bonds was on his way to moving into second place all-time on the career home run list that season. Hill went after him, and nearly allowed home run No. 714. Juan Pierre made a home run-saving catch on a ball Bonds hit off Hill.

“You go out there and you make your pitches and you attack the hitter just as you would attack in the beginning of the season,” Hill said. “You want to face the best, you always want to go out there and compete against the best. That’s why we play this game. It doesn’t get any [better] than this at the major league level.”

As a player for the Dodgers from 1998-2004, Cora saw a lot of Bonds up close, including his record-breaking 73-homer season in 2001. Judge’s season is reminiscent of Bonds’ dominance back then.

Cora declined to compare this year’s Judge to Bonds or say if he does pass Maris, if it would be the real home run record. Performance-enhancing drugs were such a big part of the story of the remarkable seasons put together by Bonds, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa, and not a factor for Judge, who is tested like all other players in the modern game.

“He’s doing it in an era that it’s very tough to hit, let’s put it that way. Leave it at that,” Cora said. “The separation between him and the rest of the players is huge. The opposite field home runs are not where they used to be, especially in 2019, and this guy keeps doing what he’s doing.”

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