It was only fitting that Aaron Judge, one of the few constants in a Yankees season that was anything but consistent, cemented New York’s playoff berth on Sunday.
With the Yankees offense dormant all game—a frequent occurrence throughout 2021—Judge delivered the lone run of Game 162 against the Rays. Judge picked up the first walk-off hit of his career, a ninth-inning infield single, and sent New York to the American League Wild Card Game. The Yankees will play the Red Sox in New York’s first-ever potential postseason elimination game at Fenway Park on Tuesday.
“Just try to keep it simple,” Judge said of his at-bat, which scored a mad-dashing Tyler Wade. “Just try to get something up and put something in play. That’s all I really had to do.
“Walk-off situations, you never know when they’re gonna come up. It’s always a random situation when it pops up… It really wasn’t in my head, but I’m glad I was able to get that done.”
The accomplishment neatly wrapped up a stellar campaign for the 29-year-old outfielder. His injury history well-documented, Judge played in 148 games—COVID-19 was the only health issue that kept him out for an extended period—his most since his historic rookie season.
The results were not as eye-popping in 2021, but the production was top shelf, nonetheless.
Judge will not be the American League’s MVP. The Angels’ Shohei Ohtani did unprecedented things on the mound and at the plate. The Blue Jays’ Vladimir Guerrero Jr. made a run at a Triple Crown. The Royals’ Salvador Perez had a historic season himself at baseball’s most demanding position. Marcus Semien, José Ramírez, Carlos Correa, Jose Altuve and Cedric Mullins all finished with higher fWAR.
In another year, Judge may have had a stronger case for the sport’s most prestigious individual award. But he was clearly the Yankees’ MVP, matching Gerrit Cole’s fWAR and outproducing Giancarlo Stanton, who had a terrific year in his own right, across the board.
That much was clear before Sunday’s game. Judge’s walk-off only served as a reminder as the Yankees head to the postseason.
“Sometimes great players don’t have the opportunity to get those walk-off hits because other teams are guarding against that or staying away from that,” Aaron Boone said, suggesting Judge is feared in those spots, and for good reason. “But a great regular season for Aaron Judge, capped off fittingly.”