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BOSTON — Could it be Aaron Judge, late Sunday night at Fenway Park, offered an alternate side effect of Derby Jinx?
For the first three games after his captivating Home Run Derby championship, the Yankees’ superstar rookie looked more worn out than Jon Voight at the end of “The Champ.” Then, when his bat woke up from its lumber slumber, Judge fell victim to some serious misfortune (and Red Sox excellence).
So the Yankees split Sunday’s day-night doubleheader with their New England rivals, winning the opener by a 3-0 score and losing the nightcap by the same score, and split the four-game series by a 2-2 count, and left town trailing the Sawx by the same 3 ½- game gap they did at the All-Star break.
Yet they departed with hope their pitching, particularly their bullpen, had stabilized. And with optimism Judge, despite being 1-for-18 with three walks in the second half, will avoid the dreaded Derby Jinx (the one in which you experience a power outage, not the one in which Jackie Bradley Jr. makes a ridiculous catch to rob you of a homer).
“You’re going to have your ups and downs,” Judge said. “You’re going to have your times when you do everything right and you still get out. It’s just part of it. I’m happy with the swing. I’m happy with a lot of the swings I took the last couple of days. But you don’t get any results from it. That’s baseball. That’s the game we play.”
“He kind of went through a tough time for the first time this year,” manager Joe Girardi said of Judge. “It’s going to happen at some point. You’re going to have a tough three or four days, five days. But I felt pretty good about his at-bats tonight. And I think he’s maybe getting back on track.”
Judge’s last at-bat of the series, in the eighth inning, produced one of the season’s highlights. With Gary Sanchez on first base, one out and David Price on the mound, Judge destroyed a first-pitch fastball, sending it into straightaway center field at an exit velocity of 107.5 mph. It traveled 411 feet, as per MLB.com’s Statcast, into Fenway’s famed center-field triangle. And Bradley leaped over the right corner to grab the ball, amazing everyone on site. Statcast projects such a ball to be a hit 94 percent of the time.
“I thought it had a chance,” Judge said. “But I just hit it to the wrong part of the park, and the wrong center fielder.”
In the third, Judge sent a line drive right at Mookie Betts in right field. Those two shots impressed far more than his one hit, a Game 1 swinging bunt down the third-base line.
Judge looked so lousy from Friday night through Sunday afternoon, with such little hard contact I asked him if he thought fatigue from the Derby might be a factor.
“I could see that,” Judge said. “But I’m good. I didn’t look fatigued during the Derby, did I?”
Noooo, I responded — although, I added, he looked tired, understandably, the subsequent day, when he reported to work for the All-Star Game.
“Yeah, understandably,” Judge said. “But I feel good. I had four days off. I’m fresh, ready to go.”
He looked far fresher in Game 2, and Girardi said he planned to rest Judge either Tuesday or Wednesday in Minnesota. Nevertheless, to dismiss the Derby Jinx outright is to ignore both history and common sense. The Phillies’ Bobby Abreu in 2005 (18 homers in 323 at-bats pre-Derby, six homers in 265 at-bats afterward) and the Mets’ David Wright in 2006 (20 homers in 339 at-bats pre-Derby, six homers in 243 at-bats post-Derby) both struggled greatly.
Judge of course has earned the right to slump. However, we have earned the right to wonder about this. He can refute the theory altogether by again becoming the consistently dangerous hitter that got him into Miami in the first place, and on Sunday night, he displayed the first glimpses of being just that.