Aaron Judge gives Yankees walk-off win over Astros

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Aaron Judge gives Yankees walk-off win over Astros

The top two teams in the American League played a ball game framed by home runs in the sunshine. Jose Altuve drove the first pitch over the left field wall, and Aaron Judge did the same until the last pitch. More than 44,000 fans packed Yankee Stadium for the fourth straight day. Some even stayed for post-game promotions and played tag on their dream field.

This was baseball as it should be, as the Mets used to say in the ’80s, and maybe by the end of October we’re actually getting a subway series. But the route to the AL pennant always leads through Houston, and the Astros plan to keep it that way. The Yankees came back to beat them 6-3 in 10 innings on Sunday, but it was probably their toughest test of the season.

“The fans just know that these two teams are probably going to see each other a lot later on,” said Judge, who knocked out right-handed reliever Seth Martinez for his three-run homer that won the game.

“We’ve seen each other a lot in the post-season in recent years. Every time we play it’s going to be a good ball game and the fans expect that. They put their energy into it from the first pitch and that’s what they love. You’re looking forward to these weekends, playing against good teams and seeing where you are in the AL.

The Yankees are 53-20, seven and a half games better than the Astros, but they really had to work for a four-game split. They went 16 innings without a hit — from the eighth on Friday to the seventh on Sunday — and needed big hits from Judge to win the first and fourth games.

“It was Judge 2, Us 2,” Astros manager Dusty Baker said.

It was compelling theater, marred only by fans’ weary act of booing Altuve for the Astros’ sign-stealing scandal in 2017. Another member of that team, Marwin Gonzalez, now plays for the Yankees, and two others – Carlos Beltrán and Cameron Maybin – play call games on the YES Network. But only Altuve beat Judge for the AL Most Valuable Player award this season.

Judge is the absolute favorite this season; He now leads the majors with 28 home runs at a pace of 62, one more than Roger Maris hit in 1961. He finished Thursday’s game with a long single to the left corner and homer to end a game with Toronto last month.

“Unreal,” said Giancarlo Stanton. “He always came big for us when we needed him.”

The last Yankee with three walk-off hits in a season was Melky Cabrera in 2009, the year they won their last World Series title. The Yankees haven’t returned to that phase, which most often bounced off the Astros, who ousted them in the playoffs in 2015, 2017 and 2019 — and caused at least a mild scare this weekend.

“I don’t believe in having someone’s number,” Baker said on Sunday in the dugout before batting practice. “It depends on how you’re playing at that point and how many of your frontline guys are out, how your guys serve. There are many factors at play, especially in a short series. I don’t believe in having men’s numbers – and I don’t believe in nobody having them our Number.”

While the Astros remain in town to play the Mets this week, the Yankees host the Oakland Athletics to a three-game series on Monday. The A’s have the worst record of the majors at 25-49, and through Saturday they totaled .211. That would be the worst batting average by an AL team in more than a century.

The A’s held a liquidation sale as soon as the March lockout ended, dropping a couple of expensive veterans and holding onto a high-profile starter, right-hander Frankie Montas, to sell at the close. Several other teams — Cincinnati, Detroit, Kansas City, Pittsburgh, Washington, the Chicago Cubs — have been similarly hopeless this season.

When these teams meet their rivals, it’s a mismatch and everyone knows it — the opposite of the tight, engrossing weekend the Yankees and Astros just had. This wasn’t what players envisioned during the lockout as they looked for ways to encourage a more competitive landscape in the league.

The collective bargaining agreement the players reached with team owners includes a lottery for the top six draft spots, an additional wildcard spot in each league, and incentives to nurture top prospects for opening day rather than bunkering them in the minors manipulate duty times. But change takes time.

“Hopefully next year and the year after that there will be more teams competing,” said the Yankees’ Zack Britton, a backup pitcher who served on the union’s executive subcommittee. “But I think it’s mostly the teams that are going against each other and then there’s the bottom. There really isn’t much going on in the middle right now, despite more teams having access to the playoffs and things like that.

“The hope was that it would get better as we went along, that by year five of this CBA we would see some changes. I’m not sure we expected that just because the teams were structured like that last year and the year before that.”

The goal, Britton said, was to cap the rewards of sustained losses and discourage those endless rebuild phases. Not every team can do that and become the Astros, a powerhouse who showed the Yankees that the sprint to the World Series — even in a charming Bronx season — won’t be a sure thing.

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