NEW YORK (AP) — Aaron Judge’s first swing of the season ended up just like 62 others last year: a soaring home run.
In his first game as Yankees captain, Judge’s solo drive in the first inning off Logan Webb started New York to a 5-0 opening-day win over the San Francisco Giants on Thursday.
“One of my lowest, darkest places this winter was when I thought maybe it was in jeopardy that he was coming back,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said Thursday morning. “One of the darkest places I went was picturing him on that third-base line in a Giants uniform on opening day.”
Instead, Judge emerged from the first-base dugout to loud cheers from the crowd of 46,172 during pregame introductions. A short while later, he hit a 422-foot shot into the netting above Monument Park in center field, the first home run of the major league season.
“I think it went back to the Roll Call and even the introductions — hearing my name, with the Yankee roar,” Judge said. “I didn’t want to go anywhere. I was pretty vocal about that from the beginning and then you got to go through the free-agency process. But all in all this is where I wanted to be and I’m happy I’m here and it’s tough to think about being anywhere else.”
Just before opening day last year, Judge turned down the Yankees’ offer of $213.5 million over seven years through 2029, betting on himself.
“I just remember the talk: How do you think he’ll be? Do you think he’ll be able to handle it? Will it be a distraction for him?” Boone said. “I think in hindsight it’s safe to assume it was not.”
Judge hit .311 with 62 homers and 131 RBIs en route to the AL MVP award. He broke the AL home record that had stood since Roger Maris hit 61 in 1961 and tied for the major league RBIs lead.
Judge agreed to a $360 million, nine-year contract with the Yankees, spurning his hometown area Giants and the San Diego Padres. After Judge agreed to the deal, the Yankees elevated him to their first captain since Derek Jeter in 2014.
Judge took a first-pitch strike from Webb on a sunny, 39-degree day at Yankee Stadium, then hit a thigh-high cutter on the outside part of the plate for a 109 mph drive and his first opening day home run.
“It was a tone-setter for us,” winner Gerrit Cole said. “He came up and woke everybody up and showed us that he was here to play.”
Judge added a broken-bat RBI single against John Brebbia in a two-run seventh and is hitting .429 (12 for 28) on opening day with four doubles and three walks.
“It would have been nice to have him,” Webb said. “I wish I could have that pitch back.”
Judge turns 31 next month and craves adding the accomplishments expected in the lineage of Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Yogi Berra, Mickey Mantle and Jeter: World Series titles. He was playing in Yankee Stadium for the first time since Houston completed a four-game AL Championship Series sweep last October and went on to beat Philadelphia for the championship.
“There’s only room for improvement,” Judge said. “I’m trying to get 1% better every day, and hopefully I can add that up over a course of nine years and have some impactful years here with the Yankees.”
New York Yankees’ Aaron Judge reacts after hitting a solo home run during the first inning of a baseball game against the San Francisco Giants at Yankee Stadium Thursday, March 30, 2023, in New York. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)