Just 3½ games separate Boston and New York atop the AL East, as the famed ball clubs are bracing themselves for what is shaping up to be an exciting final stretch of the regular season. With the division title still entirely up for grabs, the longtime rivals played their first of 10 games in 24 days on Friday night.
A huge part of the Yankees’ success this year has been due to outfielder Aaron Judge. With a Home Run Derby title already under his belt, the 25-year-old is the heavy favorite to win Rookie of the Year honors, and some speculate that he even could take home the American League MVP award, too.
Here’s everything Red Sox fans need to know about the rising superstar:
1. He wasn’t always an outfielder.
The MLB All-Star was actually once a high school pitching ace. On the mound, Judge had a 9-3 record with a 0.88 ERA, 65 strikeouts, and 20 walks. He finished his senior season with five-straight wins en route to a league championship. The right-hander also led his high school league in batting average (.500), home runs (7), and RBI (32).
2. His high school football career generated interest from Notre Dame and Stanford.
Judge was a three-sport athlete at Linden High School in California. As a center on the basketball team, he earned All-State honors and averaged 18.2 points and 12.8 rebounds per game. As a wide receiver on the football team, the teenager set school records for single-season touchdown receptions (17) and single-season receiving yars (969). According to his coach Mike Huber, “nobody could stop him.”
Although he was reportedly recruited to play football at a handful of elite institutions, including Notre Dame, Stanford, and UCLA, Judge turned down scholarship offers to pursue baseball at Fresno State University.
3. He can hit the ball. Far.
The rookie has 114 hits and 35 home runs on the season, but saying Judge can merely hit the ball is a vast understatement. Earlier this year, Judge launched a 496-foot homer out of Yankees Stadium to set the record for the longest distance a home run has traveled since tracking began in 2009.
— MLB (@MLB) June 12, 2017
If that number isn’t jaw-dropping enough, he rocketed a 504-foot moonshot out of Marlins Park at the Home Run Derby in July. During batting practice, the champ also slammed one into the retractable roof, which was specifically designed so that it could not be reached by a batter.
— MLB (@MLB) July 11, 2017
4. His offense doesn’t necessarily outshine his defense.
The right-fielder has proven that he’s determined to do whatever he can in order to record an out, whether he’s sprawling out to make an improbable catch…
— New York Yankees (@Yankees) May 21, 2017
…or firing darts to throw a runner out at home.
— MLB (@MLB) July 18, 2017
5. David Ortiz thinks Judge is ‘the scariest thing’ he’s ever seen.
While No. 99 might have a personal cheering section—Judge’s Chambers—at Yankees Stadium, the slugger appears to also have an admirer in Boston. Ortiz has been openly fanboying at the rookie’s impressive performance at the plate, as well as his monstrous stature.
“When you’re that tall, the strike zone is bigger,” Ortiz said, via the NY Post. “You watch him hit, and he doesn’t chase bad pitches. That’s special. God bless him. He’s fun to watch. What a beast.”
Big Papi, who once called Judge an “avatar,” isn’t off-base with his characterization. At 6-foot-7 and 282 pounds, Judge reportedly has the highest body mass of any position player in league history. And his cleat size? 17.
6. He has an in-game superstition involving bubblegum.
While most people can’t wait to spit out a flavorless piece of gum, Judge craves that stale taste. Before every game, he reportedly starts chewing two pieces of Double-Bubble but only replaces them when he gets an out. If he finishes the day batting 1.000, then he’ll still be chomping on the same pieces in the ninth as he was in the first.
“Hopefully, by the end of the night, I have a nasty, old, unflavored piece of gum in my mouth,” Judge told ESPN.
7. He’s broken all kinds of records—both good and bad.
In July, Judge hit his 30th home run to surpass centerfielder Joe DiMaggio for most homers in a season by a Yankees rookie. While it took DiMaggio 138 games to record his 29, it took Judge just 82 to reach 30. The batter’s other record-breaking statistics, however, aren’t as laudable.
The 25-year-old currently holds the longest active streak in the league for games with a strikeout—a spell that extended on Friday when he struck out swinging against Boston’s Eduardo Rodriguez.
Aaron Judge has struck out in Yankees-record 26 straight games; no one else in MLB has a longer active streak than 13 games. pic.twitter.com/FpQXmrUtWD
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) August 10, 2017
His struggles aren’t limited only to August. In July, Judge tied his own mark from June for the most number of strikeouts in a calendar month by a Yankee.
Aaron Judge (NYY) struck out 39 times in July, matching the Yankees record for K in a calendar month that he set in June (via @EliasSports)
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) August 1, 2017
8. He’s been slumping since the All-Star break.
After crushing 47 dingers at the Home Run Derby, Judge appears to be in a bit of a funk. Before the mid-summer recess, he was batting .329—a stat that has now dropped to .294. Heading into Friday night’s contest against the Sox, Judge’s batting average since July 14 was just .167.
As for why the rookie is slumping? ESPN speculates that pitchers have adjusted their approach against the slugger by throwing more fast balls and targeting them outside of the strike zone. Or maybe Jackie Bradley Jr. just killed Judge’s mojo with this spectacular catch in his first series back.
— Red Sox (@RedSox) July 17, 2017
9. He’s a pretty humble guy, given his success.
While at Fresno State, the baseball team had a policy of fining players a dollar every time they used the words, “I, me, or my” in a boastful context. In his three seasons as Bulldog, Judge had plenty of opportunities to gloat but was reportedly never fined.
That team-first mentality has carried over into his career as a Yankee. After his very fruitful first half of the season, he told MLB.com, “I’m blessed to be in this position with my teammates around me, always putting me in the right spot and helping me do my best and helping me succeed.”