Aaron Judge’s message after ‘cruel’ Yankees moment still resonates
In the quiet visiting clubhouse at Minute Maid Park last October, just minutes after the Yankees saw their season end in crushing fashion against the Astros in the ALCS, manager Aaron Boone addressed the team then opened up the floor.
Aaron Judge spoke up to deliver a message that is still on his mind nine months later, with the Yankees on the verge of a long-awaited Opening Day.
“Kind of just spoke to the team and said, ‘Hey guys, don’t forget this feeling. Don’t forget this emptiness,’ ” Judge said Tuesday before a final spring training 2.0 workout at Yankee Stadium.
“You don’t know what to say. You really don’t have anything to say. All I could say to the guys is, ‘Remember this feeling. Remember this silence, this emptiness and just use it as fuel. Don’t use it to mope about it, linger about it. Use it as fuel going into this next season to take care of business.’ ”
That journey will begin Thursday in Washington, when Gerrit Cole and the Yankees open a 60-game sprint with a showdown against Max Scherzer and the Nationals.
It was the Nationals who were awaiting the winner of the Yankees and Astros last October, before the Yankees lost in a Game 6 walk-off homer by Jose Altuve. After Judge encouraged his teammates to embrace the hurt, an offseason that was anything but normal ensued — filled with revelations about the Astros’ sign-stealing program and the chaos that has come with the COVID-19 pandemic.
Through it all, the feelings from the night of Oct. 19 lingered.
“The cruel ending of it all, I do remember Judgie, in his way, in a strong way, saying that to us,” Boone said. “I think that just added to the sting, how real that moment was. I always feel like falling down does add another log to the fire. Certainly that was the case. I feel like in spring training and now in summer camp, I’m witnessing that fire burning strongly with these guys.”
For Judge, it kept burning through a fractured rib and a collapsed lung that were discovered in early March, which would have sidelined him for the originally scheduled Opening Day. In spring training 2.0, he had to fight off a stiff neck but has bounced back just fine, with three home runs in two exhibition games.
Judge said Tuesday his rib is “not an issue” and his neck has “cleared up.”
“I’m ready to go,” the right fielder said. “I’d always like to see more live at-bats before the season, take a couple more practice tests. That never hurts anybody. But I think we’re all ready for Thursday to get here and feeling good physically and mentally.”
With the injuries past him and the season about to begin, Judge relived the painful night of Game 6 in Houston and the emotional roller coaster that was the ninth inning — starting with DJ LeMahieu’s two-run home run that tied the game at 4-4. Judge was on deck, “thinking we’re going to win the whole World Series,” only for Altuve to win it with a walk-off homer off Aroldis Chapman in the bottom of the ninth.
After talking to the team that night, Judge told reporters the season was “a failure.” Thursday, the Yankees will finally get a chance to begin anew, with that last game still fresh in their minds.
“I’m still thinking a lot about how last year ended,” Judge said. “That’s still stuck with me. Still motivation for me to make sure that doesn’t happen again. But I think the boys are ready and we’re ready to get rolling.”
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