This story was excerpted from Bryan Hoch’s Yankees Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.
It was here in Toronto one year ago today when Gerrit Cole ventured into the press conference room at Rogers Centre, almost a supporting cast member in ‘The Aaron Judge Show.’
He was asked to discuss a milestone in the backdrop of his teammate tying Roger Maris’ single-season American League home run record.
“I think it’s more special because of what Aaron did tonight,” Cole said last Sept. 28, recounting having tied Ron Guidry for the club’s single-season strikeout record, a mark he’d break days later at Globe Life Field in Arlington — on the same date that Judge surpassed Maris.
As Cole stamped a convincing exclamation mark on his case for a first career Cy Young Award on Wednesday, shutting out the Blue Jays in a two-hit gem, Judge provided support with two home runs before stepping aside.
It was Cole’s turn to enjoy the spotlight, but the right-hander still found himself marveling at Judge, who has slugged 37 homers in just 103 games this season — not far off his 2023 pace of 62, despite missing two months with a torn ligament in his right big toe.
“In a weird way, it’s just been special to watch him go about his business,” Cole said. “We’ve had conversations over the last few weeks about continuing to set the tone for the young players trying to break in and finishing the season strong. When you’re in a playoff race, it’s easy to get energy from the crowd, the stakes. When you’re not, your effort should not change.
“ … This guy played through pain. This guy rehabbed for a long time. I don’t know how he’s feeling now, but he sure looks great, I can tell you that. He never gave an at-bat away, he never gave a pitch away, no matter how he was feeling or how our position is. When you’re looking to a leader, those are the types of intangibles that you look for.”
Even with the Yankees eliminated from postseason contention, Judge has made it clear that he intends to play out the team’s remaining games.
“There was talk of stuff getting shut down, but I’ve got to be out there,” Judge said. “I’m a leader on this team, and especially with the young guys we’ve got coming up, you’ve got to show them that you’ve got to post. Even if you’re not feeling good, not feeling great, you’ve got to be out there every single day for your teammates. So I want to be out there.”
We’ll always wonder what the Yankees’ season might have looked like had Judge not collided with a low-lying concrete barrier in Los Angeles on June 3 — “Can we get some padding in Dodger Stadium?” Cole remarked on Wednesday — but manager Aaron Boone has been encouraged by Judge’s ability to remain on the field since his return in late July.
Boone said that Judge is not expected to need offseason surgery on the toe, which raises the club’s optimism that it can count upon a complete and productive season from its best hitter in 2024.
“I feel like it’s gone how he and everyone had hoped or expected to some degree,” Boone said. “He was not all the way healed, but we felt like it was healing the right way. Since he’s come back in that Baltimore series [on July 28], I think it’s gone really well.
“He’s been able to post over and over again. I’ve been able to use the DH with him a lot, which has probably helped a little bit, but I think he’s in a pretty good spot heading into the winter.”