NEW YORK — All rise again.
From the start of the 2017 season until the day he hit the disabled list in late July of this year, Aaron Judge undoubtedly stood as the Yankees’ best hitter and centerpiece of their much ballyhooed youth movement.
But Judge needed nearly two months to recover from the chip fracture he suffered when he took a Jake Junis fastball to the right wrist on June 26, defying the Yankees’ initial estimate that he might miss only a few weeks.
Hand injuries are known to sap hitters’ power, and Judge’s performance in September after his long-awaited return to the lineup offered real cause for concern: The towering slugger had 26 home runs with a .947 OPS in 99 games before the injury, but hit only one long ball with a pedestrian .675 OPS in 11 September games thereafter.
In his first at-bat of the AL wild-card game on Wednesday, Judge quieted his doubters in the loudest possible fashion. With leadoff man Andrew McCutchen on first, the 2017 MVP runner-up turned on a 2-1 fastball from A’s opener Liam Hendriks and deposited it deep into the left-field grandstand. The 427-foot shot left Judge’s bat at 116.1 mph, his highest exit velocity since returning from the disabled list, and gave the Yankees an early lead they would never relinquish.
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Judge would later tack on a squib double down the right field line in the sixth inning to kick off the four-run rally that blew the game open in the Bronx.
While one 2-for-3 night, no matter how convincing, hardly proves Judge is all the way back from the protracted injury, his performance nevertheless makes the Yankees’ batting order look far more formidable heading into the ALDS in Boston on Friday.
The team’s late-season additions of McCutchen and Luke Voit strengthened an already deep offense that powered the club to a 100-win season, but Wednesday marked only the fourth time the nine players in the wild-card game lineup — the Yanks’ best — started the same game.
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