Judge walks it off for Yankees on eve of hearing

MLB

NEW YORK — Aaron Judge lined a game-winning single on the eve of his arbitration showdown, capping a four-run ninth inning that included Aaron Hicks‘ tying, three-run homer off closer Ryan Pressly in the New York Yankees‘ 7-6 victory over the Houston Astros on Thursday night.

Batting with two on against Ryne Stanek, Judge smoked a 3-0 splitter into the left-field corner to score Jose Trevino from second base. It was the Yankees’ ninth walk-off win in 70 games this season — their most since 1943 — and one that seemed mighty unlikely when they entered the last inning with only two hits.

New York took the opener of a highly anticipated four-game series between the American League’s top two teams, winning for the 19th time in 22 games to improve to 52-18 — the third-best 70-game start in the majors since 1930.

New York also extended its home winning streak to 15 games, the team’s longest since 1961.

The Yankees entered Thursday tied for the major league lead with 20 comeback victories. No. 21 might be the most memorable.

Giancarlo Stanton, who hit a three-run homer in the first inning, led off the ninth with a walk against Pressly, and Gleyber Torres drew another during a plate appearance that included a lengthy delay because Torres had something in his eye.

The switch-hitting Hicks then dug in from the left side and crushed a no-doubter out to right, just the third hit for the Yankees all night and first since Stanton’s homer. It was Hicks’ third homer of the season.

Isiah Kiner-Falefa followed with hit No. 4, an infield single stopped by diving shortstop Mauricio Dubon, but then was thrown out trying to steal second — a close call upheld via replay.

Trevino then lined a one-out single, prompting manager Dusty Baker to pull Pressly (1-2). Trevino also had a go-ahead, two-run homer in the eighth inning of a 5-4 win at Tampa Bay on Wednesday night.

Pressly, a two-time All-Star, entered with a 5.71 ERA in 18 career appearances against the Yankees, including the postseason.

Stanek walked DJ LeMahieu, then fell behind Judge 3-0 as fans serenaded the slugger with “MVP!” chants.

“I knew I was gonna get the job done,” Judge said after his third career walk-off hit and second this season. “That’s when this game’s at its best right there, moments like that. Crowd’s on their feet, game’s on the line. They’re the moments in your backyard you dream about.”

Miguel Castro (4-0) got the win.

Next up: an unusual in-season arbitration hearing Friday — rulings are usually made in the offseason but were pushed past Opening Day due to the sport’s labor lockout. Judge is asking for a $21 million salary, while New York has offered $17 million in his final season before reaching free agency.

Judge said earlier in the week that he was looking forward to the hearing. It’s easy to see why.

He’s leading the majors with 27 home runs and is fifth with 53 RBIs.

The Astros’ Alex Bregman and Stanton exchanged three-run homers in the first inning, and Houston’s Yordan Alvarez cracked another three-run drive in the third against Yankees starter Jameson Taillon.

Framber Valdez steadied himself after a rocky first inning, Jose Altuve had three hits and right fielder Kyle Tucker robbed a potential homer in the eighth inning for Houston, but the Astros fell to 43-26 on a rare down night for the majors’ leading bullpen.

Stanton became the first player to homer off Valdez’s elite curveball this season, and the left-hander shied away from his best pitch after that — to stellar results. With a heavy dose of sinkers, Valdez struck out seven over six innings, allowing just the three runs on two hits, both in the first inning.

Valdez looked prime to go deep into the game until Anthony Rizzo grinded out a 16-pitch walk in the sixth inning. Valdez was pulled after 101 pitches.

Hector Neris pitched a perfect seventh, and Tucker helped Rafael Montero get through the eighth. After Judge reached on third baseman Bregman’s error, Rizzo smoked what he thought was a two-run homer to right. With Rizzo jogging to first, Tucker leaped into the wall and grabbed the line drive for the third out.

Taillon allowed a season-high six runs, interrupting a stellar first half after years of being hampered by health woes. Houston had 10 hits in 5⅔ innings against the right-hander.

Fans showed up fiery for the renewal of a blossoming baseball rivalry — Houston has eliminated the Yankees from three postseasons since 2015, including during its scandal-tainted 2017 World Series run.

Bronx fans were delighted when Taillon plunked Altuve leading off the game, but they sank back into their seats when Bregman slugged his homer to left field moments later. The lull ended when Stanton countered with his drive in the bottom of the inning.

Alvarez, who homered twice against the Mets on Wednesday night, smacked a low, 113 mph line drive into Yankee Stadium’s short right-field porch in the third. Alvarez’s 22 homers trail only Judge’s 27 for the major league lead.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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