NEW YORK – Aaron Judge circled the bases for the 50th time this season, breaking Mark McGwire’s major league record for home runs by a rookie, and returned to the Yankees dugout to exchange handshakes, hugs and high-fives with excited teammates.
And then, he walked up the steps and back onto the field.
Embarrassed by the attention, he managed four short waves with his right hand before heading back to the bench just three seconds later.
“They kind of told me: ‘You got to go out there. You got to go out there,’ ” he would later recall. “First curtain call. I hope it was a good one.”
Judge had his second straight two-homer game in an 11-3 rout of Kansas City on Monday. On an unseasonably warm autumn afternoon, the Yankees won for the 16th time in 22 games during a playoff push that earned no worse than a wild card.
The 200-cm, 25-year-old slugger tied McGwire’s 1987 mark with a two-run drive to right-center off Jakob Junis (8-3) in the third inning that put New York ahead 3-0, driving a 150-kph high fastball 120 meters about a half-dozen rows into the right field seats.
Judge pulled a hanging changeup 125 meters for a parabolic solo shot that bounced to the left of the visiting bullpen against Trevor Cahill in the seventh. It was his fourth multihomer game this month and seventh this year.
He was hitting .329 with 30 homers and 66 RBIs when he won the All-Star Home Run Derby.
“The way he started, I thought he was going to hit 60, 70,” Yankees catcher Gary Sanchez said through a translator.
But as if zapped by Kryptonite, Judge slumped to a .179 average with seven homers and 16 RBIs from the start of the second half through Aug. 31, a whiff-a-thon that included 67 strikeouts in 44 games.
“I saw frustration,” Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. “I didn’t see him getting down. I never saw him stop working. I never saw him not believe in himself.”
Judge revived to hit .307 with 13 homers and 26 RBIs in a stunning September, leaving him with a .283 average, 108 RBIs, an AL-leading 120 walks and a big league-high 203 strikeouts.
“Everybody’s going say, oh, the strikeouts. But I think if I’m an owner or a GM, I’ll take 300 strikeouts with the year he’s putting up,” Yankees third baseman Todd Frazier said.
Dodgers 9, Padres 3
In Los Angeles, if there were any lingering questions about whether Yu Darvish is ready for the playoffs, he answered them.
Darvish pitched two-hit ball over seven innings and the Dodgers beat the Padres to reach 100 wins for the first time in 43 years.
Los Angeles acquired Darvish from Texas just before the July 31 trade deadline to help bolster a rotation that has designs on a World Series title. He’s been up and down since arriving, but the Dodgers don’t have to wonder about his confidence heading into the postseason.
“That’s continued to build over his last few starts,” manager Dave Roberts said. “We’ve talked about what it takes to win a championship and what we believe is it starts with starting pitching and Yu is a big part of where we’re trying to go. For him to get that confidence, I think we can certainly be much more optimistic.”
Darvish (10-12) was perfect through four innings and didn’t allow a hit until Hunter Renfroe doubled with one out in the fifth. The right-hander permitted one run while striking out nine and walking none.
“I think I’m in a really good position physically and mentally,” Darvish said through a translator. “What we wanted to work on from the last outing was pitch selection and some details. We had a really good talk before the game with (catcher Yasmani) Grandal. The game plan (worked). I feel really good.”
Darvish’s performance was exactly the stuff Los Angeles is looking for when the postseason starts next week.
“I think you know at times he can be absolutely dominant,” Padres manager Andy Green said. “I think we saw that version of him tonight. I think the last couple of times he’s been on the mound he’s looked that way.”
Cubs 10, Cardinals 2
In St. Louis, Addison Russell hit a three-run double in the first inning, then made a food run for a fan in enemy territory while Chicago beat the Cardinals to move within a victory of clinching its second straight NL Central title.
Russell helped the Cubs get to starter Luke Weaver (7-2) early, then made some friends out of rival fans. After diving into the stands chasing a foul ball down the third-base line and spilling a fan’s tray of chips, Russell emerged from the dugout a few innings later with a plate of nachos and delivered it to the fan. Russell stopped to take a selfie before heading back to play shortstop.
Blue Jays 6, Red Sox 4
In Boston, Josh Donaldson homered and drove in three runs.
White Sox 4, Angels 2
In Chicago, James Shields tossed seven strong innings and Nicky Delmonico hit a two-run double as the White Sox damaged Los Angeles’ slim playoff hopes.
Astros 11, Rangers 2
In Arlington, Texas, Marwin Gonzalez had four hits and three RBIs as AL West champion Houston put the Rangers on the brink of elimination in the wild-card race.
Giants 9, Diamondbacks 2
In Phoenix, Nick Hundley hit a three-run homer, Johnny Cueto pitched well over six innings and the Giants beat the resting Diamondbacks.
Nationals 3, Phillies 1
In Philadelphia, Michael Taylor homered and A.J. Cole allowed one run while pitching into the sixth inning.
Marlins 5, Rockies 4
In Denver, Miguel Rojas had a career-high four RBIs and the Marlins held off Colorado, cutting the Rockies’ lead for the second NL wild card to 1½ games over Milwaukee.
The Marlins won even though slugger Giancarlo Stanton went hitless in five at-bats. He remained at 57 homers.
Miami’s Ichiro Suzuki went 0-for-1 in a pinch-appearance.
Mariners 7, Athletics 1
In Oakland, Mitch Haniger homered twice and Felix Hernandez won for the first time in more than two months.
Braves 9, Mets 2 (1st)
Mets 3, Braves 2 (2nd)
In New York, Seth Lugo pitched two-hit ball over six innings and Travis d’Arnaud hit a record-setting homer for the Mets in the nightcap of a doubleheader split.
D’Arnaud hit his solo shot in the eighth inning. It was the 219th homer for the Mets, a franchise season mark.