After spending over a month on the sidelines, between two separate stints on the injured list, Yankees' right fielder Aaron Judge finished the regular season with zero home runs in his final 10 games played.
Digging in on Tuesday, in the first inning of Game 1 of the Wild Card Series against the Cleveland Indians, Judge wasted no time. He demolished a first-pitch heater from soon-to-be American League Cy Young Award winner Shane Bieber for a no-doubt two-run home run to right-center field.
Bieber had surrendered a leadoff single to DJ LeMahieu in the previous at-bat. Four pitches into his postseason debut, Cleveland was already in a two-run hole to the Bronx Bombers.
"It's a special feeling especially against the guy that's most likely going to win the Cy Young this year," Judge said. "It's a special moment but I just want to go out there and try to set the tone. I know DJ was gonna get off for me and I'm just wanting to, you know, if I got a mistake, you know, don't miss it. Just kind of set the tone for the team of, we're going to do this postseason."
The blast from No. 99—the ninth home run of Judge's postseason career—soared 399 feet, leaving his bat at 108 mph. Bieber's 93.7 mph fastball to start the at-bat was served on a platter right down the middle.
It was Judge's first home run since Aug. 11, opening the floodgates as New York's offense erupted for 15 hits in a 12-3 rout over Cleveland.
Yankees manager Aaron Boone had been expecting Judge's power stroke to return in the playoffs, explaining over that weekend that home runs are "always boiling under the surface" with Judge.
After the slugger catalyzed an onslaught offensively, chasing Bieber from the game after just 4 2/3 innings, the skipper prefaced how important Judge is to New York's success.
"When he's rolling, it rubs off from an energy standpoint on our team," Boone said. "He has a presence in there that I think the guys feed off a little bit."
Bombers ace Gerrit Cole, who sparkled in his postseason debut with the Yankees, echoed the sentiment of his manager. He called Judge's first-inning blast not just a tone setter but "crucial" and a "right hook" to start the contest.
It's also a team thing as well you know PJ and Aaron and the first day of delivery you know the kind of left Jab, Right Hook you know to start the game off was was was crucial and I felt like we finished the at-bats well for the first inning and then you know we kept our foot relatively on the gas the whole night so as far as setting the tone like individually, we certainly want to go out and do the best we can, but you know it's a team game so it takes all of us.
"He just has such a big impact most of the time," Cole exclaimed, beaming after striking out 13 over seven innings of work. "So, if he's banging the ball around, I mean we're usually pretty much having a good day."
Outfielder Brett Gardner, shortstop Gleyber Torres and designated hitter Giancarlo Stanton each added home runs of their own in the blowout victory. Judge explained that through watching film, having productive meetings with New York's hitting coaches and sticking to a common game plan, the Bombers' bats were able to flip a switch on Tuesday.
"All of us stayed on the same plan," Judge explained. "If each guy goes up there with a different plan, you know a lot of pitchers, like we saw at the end of the year, can pick us apart and just kind of hammer us out. But we had a big long hitters meeting about really just all sticking to the same plan and just trying to work counts, get pitches drive and I think as a whole, we did that.
"That's when this team is dangerous when we go out there and we can just grind out at-bats any mistakes that are thrown up there we hammer 'em them because we're able to do that tonight."
To keep up with all of Inside The Pinstripes’ coverage, click the "follow" button at the top right-hand corner of this page.