A New Era Begins: Austin and Judge lead Yankees to 8-4 win over the Rays

Saturday afternoon started with a wonderful ceremony celebrating the 1996 World Series champion Yankees, and it ended with the 2016 Yankees winning their fourth straight game. This one was an 8-4 victory over the Rays. The Bronx Bombers are back and suddenly loaded with young, exciting players.

All the feels. (Presswire)

The Kids Shall Lead Them
After it was announced last Sunday that Alex Rodriguez would play in his final game Friday, we spent a week wondering who would get called up to replace him. Aaron Judge or Tyler Austin? Both guys had strong cases, and really, there was no wrong answer. As it turns out, both guys got the call. The Yankees promoted Judge and Austin to the big leagues on Saturday morning, and holy cow, did they made a strong first impression.

The game started with Judge making a nice running catch for the final out of the first inning, so right away he showed off his athleticism. The kind of athleticism you don’t normally see from a dude listed at 6-foot-7 and 275 pounds. Then, in the bottom of the second, Austin and Judge showed off their power, the power that got them to the big leagues. They swatted back-to-back solo home runs off Matt Andriese in the first at-bats of their careers. To the action footage:

I wrote about Austin’s opposite field power a week or two ago, and he made me look smart there. Thanks for that, Tyler. He got the ball airborne to the hitter friendly part of the ballpark and was rewarded with his first career hit, run, and RBI in his first at-bat. Pretty awesome.

Even more awesome? Judge following Austin’s homer with his first career hit, run, and RBI a few minutes later. Austin took advantage of the short porch. Judge hit the ball damn near over the restaurant in center field:

Aaron Judge home run

Statcast measured that at 446 feet, making it the second longest homer of the season by a Yankee. (Brian McCann hit one 450 feet.) The Yankees say Judge is the third player to hit a home run off the windows of the restaurant — it looks like the ball hit above the windows though, right? — joining Russell Branyan and Carlos Correa. I could have sworn Robinson Cano once did it against Clay Buchholz, but nope. The homer I was thinking of hit just below the windows. (Here’s the video.)

Aside from the obvious, my favorite part of Judge’s home run was Didi Gregorius picking up the 5-foot-6 Ronald Torreyes so he could high-five the 6-foot-7 Judge in the dugout afterward. Pretty funny. You can kinda see it here:

Aaron Judge Ronald Torreyes

Austin and Judge are the first teammates in baseball history (!) to hit a home run in their MLB debut. Forget about back-to-back or first at-bat or anything like that. No two rookies had ever gone deep in the same game in their MLB debuts before Saturday. Crazy. This is also the first time the Yankees had two players making their big league debuts in the starting lineup since 1969. My goodness. What a ridiculously fun inning that was.

The Return of #TooManyHomers
For the first time in Yankees franchise history, five players age 26 or younger hit home runs Saturday. It’s the only the fifth time that’s happened in baseball history. (The Cubs did it earlier this year.) The home run hitters: Austin, Judge, Starlin Castro, Aaron Hicks, and Gregorius. All five home runs meant something too.

After Austin and Judge gave the Yankees a 2-0 lead, Castro swatted a fourth inning solo homer to tie the game 3-3, then Hicks crushed a three-run homer to give the Yankees a 6-3 lead in the fifth. He destroyed that ball. It had the good sound off the bat and landed in the second deck in right field. That was Aaron’s second homer in the span of 24 hours. Fun fact: Hicks has gone 11-for-37 (.298) with a double and two homers in 12 games since Carlos Beltran was traded away.

Gregorius tacked on two big insurance runs in the seventh inning. The Rays had trimmed their deficit to 6-4, so while the Yankees had the lead, the ball was flying out of the park and some breathing room was appreciated. Especially since the back-end of the bullpen was a little short. Didi, the cleanup hitter du jour, pulled a ball out to right field for the 8-4 lead. The five homers tied the team’s season high. They did it May 9th against the Royals as well.

Seven & Fly
I have to admit, I was surprised Joe Girardi lifted Masahiro Tanaka after only seven innings and 79 pitches. You’d think he had a lot left in the tank, right? At least enough for one more inning, especially because Dellin Betances was presumably off-limits after pitching the last three days. But no, Girardi pulled the plug after 79 pitches, I guess because it was insanely hot on the field and he want to save some bullets for later.

(Rich Schultz/Getty)
(Rich Schultz/Getty)

Tanaka retired the first ten batters he faced before Kevin Kiermaier laid down a bunt hit in the fourth. Lame! I don’t have a problem with it though. It was only the fourth inning and it was a two-run game. It’s not like it was eighth or ninth inning or something. Evan Longoria followed with a single, then Brad Miller clubbed a three-run home run to left field to give the Rays a 3-2 lead.

Miller touched up Tanaka for another home run in the sixth inning. That was a solo shot to trim New York’s lead to 6-4. The two home run pitches were pretty much Tanaka’s only mistakes on the afternoon. He struck out eight, didn’t walk anyone, and retired eleven of the final 12 men he faced. The Miller solo homer was the one baserunner. Four runs in seven innings isn’t great, but on this afternoon, it was plenty good enough to win.

Tyler Clippard chucked a scoreless eighth inning before Tommy Layne recorded all three outs in the ninth. Anthony Swarzak started that ninth inning and faced just one batter; Longoria hit a ball off Austin’s glove and beat out an infield single. Adam Warren and Betances, the two big guys at the end of the game, got a much needed day off.

Five players had two hits and it was the 26 and under club: Austin, Judge, Castro, Hicks, and Gregorius. Gregorius had a homer and a double. Everyone else had a homer and a single. (Castro’s dinger was his career high tying 14th.) Austin and Hicks stole bases too. Austin is the first Yankee with a homer and a steal in his MLB debut and only the seventh player to do that in MLB history. He and Judge sure made for a fun afternoon, didn’t they?

And finally, the Yankees have won four straight games for only the fourth time this season. There haven’t been many extended winning (or losing) streaks this season. They’ve spent an awful lot of time hovering right around .500. I don’t know if the Yankees can make a serious run at a postseason spot, but I’m looking forward to watching them try.

Box Score, WPA Graph & Standings
For the box score and updated standings, go to ESPN. MLB.com has the video highlights. I suggest watching them all. We have Bullpen Workload and Announcer Standings pages too. Here’s the up then down then up again win probability graph:

Source: FanGraphs

Up Next
The Yankees will look to finish the series sweep and win their fifth straight game Sunday afternoon. Luis Severino and Jake Odorizzi are the scheduled starters. Hopefully Severino uses his changeup a little more often against Tampa’s lefty hitters. There are four games left on the homestand and, if you’re willing to brave the heat, RAB Tickets can get you in the door for all four.

Saturday Open Thread

Man that 1996 World Series reunion ceremony this afternoon was pretty damn awesome, wasn’t it? I can’t believe it’s been 20 years already. As I’ve said, that was the first Yankees championship of my lifetime, so that team is always going to be special to me. Well done with the ceremony, Yankees.

I didn’t think the day could any better after that, but then Tyler Austin and Aaron Judge went out and hit back-to-back home runs in their first two big league at-bats.

Today was a good day. Best of the season, I’d say.

Anyway, here is the open thread for the rest of the day. The Mets are playing tonight and FOX Sports 1 is airing some games throughout the night as well. The Olympics are on too. Talk about all that stuff or anything else right here. Stay cool.

Game 116: A Fun Day in the Bronx

Aug 12, 2016; Bronx, NY, USA;  New York Yankees designated hitter Alex Rodriguez (13) reacts from the dugout as shortstop Didi Gregorius (18) and first baseman Mark Teixeira (not pictured) score during the fourth inning against the Tampa Bay Rays at Yankee Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports

Holy cow is today a busy day in Yankeeland. Here’s a quick rundown of what’s going on today:

  1. Both Aaron Judge and Tyler Austin were called up and are making their MLB debuts.
  2. The Yankees are playing their first game in the post-Alex Rodriguez era.
  3. The Yankees are holding their 1996 World Series team reunion ceremony.

I am sad to see A-Rod go. I really am. At least he got a nice send-off last night. It was better and warmer than I thought it would be. The Yankees turned the page fairly quickly though, and are going all-in on this youth movement. Judge and Austin join Gary Sanchez in today’s lineup. That’s fun.

As for the 1996 World Series reunion, well that’s really awesome too. That was my first championship team as a fan and they’ll always be special to me. Pretty cool that Judge and Austin get the experience that during their first day in the big leagues. The Yankees are showing these kids what it’s all about in the Bronx.

The 1996 Yankees ceremony is going to begin around 12pm ET or so. YES will carry the whole thing, I’m certain. Today’s game will then begin a little after 1pm ET. You can watch on YES locally and MLB Network nationally. Here’s the Rays’ lineup and here’s the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  2. LF Aaron Hicks
  3. 3B Chase Headley
  4. SS Didi Gregorius
  5. 2B Starlin Castro
  6. DH Gary Sanchez
  7. 1B Tyler Austin
  8. RF Aaron Judge
  9. C Austin Romine
    RHP Masahiro Tanaka

It’s about a billion degrees outside with 5,000% percent humidity, according to my rough estimates. It is not a pleasant day to be outside. Hooray for air conditioning. If you’re going to sweat it out at the ballpark, at least it promises to be a fun day to be a Yankee fan. Enjoy the day, folks.

Roster Moves: To get Judge and Austin on the roster, A-Rod was unconditionally released (sad face) and Ben Heller was optioned to Triple-A Scranton. He’ll be back soon. Conor Mullee (elbow surgery) was transferred to the 60-day DL to clear the other 40-man roster spot.

Yankees call up Aaron Judge and Tyler Austin

Judge. (Presswire)
Judge. (Presswire)

The Yankees have called up Aaron Judge and Tyler Austin, and they’re both in the lineup this afternoon, making their Major League debuts. Judge is playing his usual right field and Austin is at first base. One is replacing Alex Rodriguez on the roster. No word on the other roster move yet. The Yankees also have to clear a 40-man roster spot, but that won’t be a problem. Conor Mullee is a 60-day DL candidate.

Word got out late last night that Austin would be called up to replace A-Rod. The Judge call-up is a bit of a surprise, though it’s not totally unexpected. The Yankees have strongly hinted he would get called up at some point. It just seemed like they would wait until rosters expand in September, at least to me. What a pleasant surprise. They’re going all-in on their prospects down the stretch.

Austin, 24, is one of the feel good stories of the season. He was the team’s 13th round pick in 2010 and he quickly emerged as a quality prospect, but injuries set him back and really took a bite out of his prospect stock the last few years. Austin has reemerged this season and is hitting .294/.392/.524 (162 wRC+) with 17 homers in 107 games between Double-A and Triple-A. He’s a cancer survivor and has been throughout quite a bit of adversity to get to MLB.

Judge took a more straight forward path to the big leagues. The 24-year-old mountain of a man was the 32nd overall pick in the 2013 draft, and aside from the second half with Triple-A Scranton last year, he destroyed the minors the last few seasons. He’s hitting .269/.363/.481 (145 wRC+) with 19 homers in 92 games around a relatively minor knee injury with the RailRiders this season. Judge mashed a monster homer just last night.

It’s a safe bet that Judge will play right field pretty much every day going forward. In fact, Brian Cashman told Bryan Hoch, “You’re going to definitely see Aaron Judge playing every day in right field.” They didn’t call him up to sit on the bench. Austin doesn’t have as clear a path to playing time. I think he’s going to end up bouncing around between first base, the corner outfield, and DH the rest of the way. Nothing wrong with that.

Judge and Austin join the recently called up Gary Sanchez on the roster, so the Yankees in the middle of a full blown youth movement. That’s awfully fun. The Yankees are also still trying to win, and hey, why not? They’re only 3.5 games out of a wildcard spot. Not like there’s anything better to do the rest of the season, right? If the Yankees do get to the postseason, the kids will have to lead them.

Thoughts following Alex Rodriguez’s final game

(Drew Hallowell/Getty)
(Drew Hallowell/Getty)

Last night Alex Rodriguez played the 1,509th and final game of his Yankees’ career. It’s hard to believe it’s over. I still remember exactly where I was when I found out the Yankees acquired him. What a ride this was, huh? A-Rod drove in a run and even played a little third base last night. I have some thoughts on all of this.

1. I think A-Rod is completely done. Forget the logistics of it all — who needs a DH who can’t H? — listening to Alex before and after the game yesterday, he truly sounded like someone at peace with his career being over. I do think he really wanted to become the fourth player to hit 700 home runs, but I also think he realizes being the fourth player to hit 696 home runs is pretty cool too. A-Rod talked about going home and spending time with his family, and basically staying away from baseball for a little while. I know his track record doesn’t exactly scream honesty, but I believed him. He sounded sincere yesterday.

2. Man did Joe Girardi hear it from the crowd yesterday. He was booed loudly during pregame introductions and again when he came out of the dugout to tell the umpires they were giving up the DH and putting Alex at third base in the ninth inning. Girardi said last weekend he would find a way to get A-Rod into as many games as he wanted this week, but it didn’t happen, and Alex admitted he was “disappointed” he didn’t get to start Tuesday and Wednesday. I was disappointed too because I wanted to see him play, and apparently I’m not alone. Girardi really wore it yesterday. Fans booed him like he was David Ortiz or something.

3. Now, that said, I’m becoming increasingly convinced the decision to sit Alex those two games earlier this week was made above Girardi. Girardi was asked about sitting A-Rod the last few weeks after yesterday’s game and he seemed genuinely upset about it. He got really emotional during his press conference. Here’s one little clip:

Later in the press conference Girardi said it was difficult for the organization to sit A-Rod, then corrected himself to say it was difficult for him to sit A-Rod, which is another indication that maybe there were some directives from above. Why? I dunno. Chances are I’m reading way too much into this anyway. I just don’t think Girardi is some evil person who set out to intentionally embarrass Alex the last few weeks.

4. This entire situation was very weird because it all happened so fast, and because it happened in the middle of the season. It was only last Sunday that the Yankees and A-Rod announced he would be playing his final game Friday, giving us less than a full week to prepare. Also, yesterday was August 12th. The Yankees have 47 games remaining. Almost one-third of a season. This was almost like a farewell tour crash course. With Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera, we had the entire season to prepare for their retirements. With Alex, it happened very quickly, and it happened at a weird point in the season. The Yankees are going to show up for work today and suddenly A-Rod won’t be there. What a weird situation.

(Christopher Pasatieri/Getty)
(Christopher Pasatieri/Getty)

5. I’m pretty happy Alex got to play third base one last time, even if it was only one batter and the ball wasn’t put in play. A-Rod got a huge ovation when he ran out of the dugout and simply making warm up throws before the inning had to be special for him. (Alex said after the game he was happy he got to make one last throw to Mark Teixeira at first base, even if it was a warm-up toss.) At this point of his career, being a full-time DH became necessary. I’m still going to remember A-Rod as a third baseman — he actually played more games at shortstop (1,272) than third base (1,194) in his career, which surprised me — and you could tell he wanted to get out there one more time. Remember when the Yankees were in San Diego a few weeks back and Alex almost got into a game at third because the Yankees had run out of players? He looked like a kid on Christmas morning when he went to get his glove in the clubhouse. I’m glad he got to go out to third base one last time, even if he all he did was stand on the field for a few pitches.

6. Now that A-Rod and Ivan Nova gone, the longest tenured player in the organization is Brett Gardner, who was drafted in 2005 and made his MLB debut in 2008. There are only two players on the roster right now who wore Yankee pinstripes and played a home game in the old Yankee Stadium: Gardner (28 games) and Tyler Clippard (three games). That’s it. And Clippard’s not even a long-tenured Yankee. He just rejoined the team after spending the 2008-15 seasons elsewhere. This really is the end of an era. Forget about the Core Four and A-Rod being gone and all that. We’re rapidly approaching the point where no players who played in the old Yankee Stadium will remain. I feel old now.

Yankees send off A-Rod with a 6-3 win over the Rays

And just like that, he is gone. Alex Rodriguez‘s time with the Yankees is officially over, and the team sent him out with a win. They beat the Rays 6-3 on Friday night, in front of a packed Yankee Stadium crowd that was decidedly pro-A-Rod. A pretty wild era of Yankees baseball is over.

(Drew Hallowell/Getty)
(Drew Hallowell/Getty)

The Most A-Rod Ceremony Ever
That was the most appropriately awkward pregame ceremony in history. That could only happen to A-Rod. I mean really. The Yankees were in the middle of praising the guy and giving him some cool gifts, then BAM, a loud crack of thunder and the skies opened up. It literally rained on his parade. How ridiculous. Of course the baseball gods wouldn’t let this happen without a hitch.

The Yankees gave A-Rod a base signed by his teammates and something else. I’m not sure what. I was too busy being amazed by the rain and the ridiculousness of it all. A-Rod, his family, and a bunch of Steinbrenners were standing there in the rain as the ceremony continued. It was beyond absurd. Eventually everyone hustled off the field. They were already in the dugout before public address announcer Paul Olden finished talking. Only A-Rod.

You Are Now Tuned Into The Greatest
Alex has heard an awful lot of boos at Yankee Stadium over the years. He heard none on Friday. He was cheered during warm-ups, he was given a big Roll Call by the Bleacher Creatures, and he was received a huge ovation before his first at-bat. The cheers were even louder after he doubled in the game-tying run with a line drive into the right-center field gap. To the video:

That double is the 3,115th hit of A-Rod’s career and likely his last. Brett Gardner took a pitch to the foot earlier in the inning and he chugged all the way around from first base to score. Just like the old days, huh? A-Rod went out and gave the Yankees a quick first inning run. That tied the game 1-1 after Evan Longoria took CC Sabathia deep in the top of the first.

Castro Comes Through
Every so often Starlin Castro comes through with a huge game that reminds you exactly why he was in the big leagues at age 20 and so highly touted earlier in his career. He came through with the two biggest hits Friday night. The first came in the fourth inning, with runners at second and third following a single (Mark Teixeira) and a double (Didi Gregorius). Castro hit a two-strike chopper through the 5.5 hole and into left for a two-run single, giving the Yankees a 3-2 lead.

Then, in the sixth, Castro gave the Yankees a 6-4 lead with a two-out, two-strike, two-run home run off Chris Archer. Teixeira singled and stole second (!) earlier in the inning to set the rally up. The pitch was an absolute hanger. The hangiest hanger that ever hanged. Archer’s reaction says it all:

Chris Archer

Following A-Rod’s first inning double, Castro drove in New York’s next four runs, and they were all meaningful. He gave the Yankees the lead twice. Good Starlin is mighty good. I hope we get to see more of him going forward.

Sabathia’s Solid Start
This was not an easy start for CC Sabathia, who had to pitch out of more jams than Tampa’s two at-bats with runners in scoring position would lead you to believe. He gave up the solo homer in the first, another run on a Longoria single against the shift in the third, then another run on a sac fly in the fifth after Tim Beckham doubled and moved up on a bunt. Only two of Sabathia’s six innings were 1-2-3 innings.

All told, the Rays hung three runs on Sabathia with four hits and three walks in six innings. He struck out seven, got nine ground ball outs against two in the air, and also benefited from a double play ball. It was nearly two double plays, but instant replay exists now, so the second double play was (correctly) overturned and only one out was given. Anyway, Sabathia had to grind through Friday’s start like he does most starts. The end result, three runs in six innings, is fine with me.

A-Rod Returns To The Hot Corner
Aaron Hicks‘ seventh inning solo home run was bigger than we realized. It was an opposite field job that landed in the very first row — if there is such a thing as a Yankee Stadium cheapie to left field, that was it — and it stretched the lead to 6-3. Still a save situation and all that, yeah, but that extra run is what pushed Joe Girardi to use Alex Rodriguez at third base in the ninth inning.

Girardi explained he did not want to use A-Rod at third with a two-run lead because if he doesn’t make a play — on a grounder or a bunt or whatever — then the tying run is immediately at the plate. With a three-run lead, the Yankees could afford one A-Rod screw up. So, with that three-run lead, Alex came out of the dugout in the ninth inning to play third base for the first time since May 5th of last year. The crowd loved it.

That was a pretty cool moment. I doesn’t compare to Derek Jeter‘s walk-off hit or Jeter and Andy Pettitte taking Mariano Rivera out of the game, but as far as grand finales go, that was pretty awesome. A-Rod said after the game that playing third base was the best part of the night for him, and he thanked Girardi numerous times for the opportunity.

Rodriguez’s time at third base was short. One batter, in fact. Dellin Betances struck out Mikie Mahtook for the first out of the ninth, then Ronald Torreyes came out of the dugout to replace A-Rod. That was the plan. Girardi said he originally planned to let Alex play two outs in the field before removing him so he could get an ovation, but A-Rod said he only wanted one out in the field. He wasn’t all that comfortable out there.

A-Rod hugged his teammates as he walked off the field and waved to the crowd. It was pretty great. The television cameras caught him with tears in his eyes, and really, it was the first time Alex seemed human. He’s this kind of larger than life baseball playing robot who — let’s be honest here — comes off as a bit of a phony. A-Rod was very human in that moment. It was emotional and he couldn’t hold it back. What a way to go out.

(Drew Hallowell/Getty)
(Drew Hallowell/Getty)

Alex finished the day 1-for-4 with the double and a strikeout. He went 1-for-4 with a double against the (Devil) Rays in his first ever game as a Yankee back in 2004, then went 1-for-4 with a double against the Rays in his final game as a Yankee in 2016. How about that? Baseball, man. It’s amazing.

Teixeira and Castro each had two hits while Gregorius, Hicks, and Chase Headley had one each. Every Yankee reached base at least once except Jacoby Ellsbury and Brian McCann, though, to their credit, they both hit line drives right at defenders. So it goes.

Tyler Clippard retired all three batters he faced in the seventh, Adam Warren pitched around a two-out walk in the eighth, and Betances struck out the side in a perfect ninth. Dellin was pitching for the third straight day, you know. Girardi usually doesn’t like to do that.

Box Score, WPA Graph & Standings
Here are the box score, video highlights, and updated standings. Also make sure you check out our Bullpen Workload and Announcer Standings pages. Here’s the win probability graph:

Source: FanGraphs

Up Next
The post-A-Rod era is next. Writing that sentence made me sad. The Yankees will play their first game without Alex on Saturday afternoon. Masahiro Tanaka and Matt Andriese are the scheduled starters. RAB Tickets can still get you in the door if you want to catch that one live.

DotF: Judge and Puello homer in Scranton’s win

Triple-A Scranton (12-7 win over Rochester)

  • CF Ben Gamel: 2-5, 2 R, 2 2B, 1 K — guessing he’ll have to wait until September for his next call-up
  • LF Clint Frazier: 0-4, 1 R, 1 BB, 2 K
  • RF Aaron Judge: 1-3, 4 R, 1 HR, 2 RBI, 2 BB, 1 K — the Yankees have a day game tomorrow, and the fact Judge played tonight and 1B Tyler Austin didn’t is a pretty good indication Austin will be called up to replace Alex Rodriguez
  • DH Cesar Puello: 4-5, 1 R, 1 2B, 1 HR, 4 RBI
  • 1B Cito Culver: 2-5, 1 R, 1 HR, 1 RBI, 1 K — look at Cito out here hitting like a first baseman
  • RHP Brady Lail: 6 IP, 5 H, 6 R, 6 ER, 1 BB, 5 K, 1 WP, 8/3 GB/FB — 55 of 81 pitches were strikes (68%)
  • RHP Jonathan Holder: 3 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 2 K, 1/3 GB/FB — 24 of 37 pitches were strikes (65%) … he gave up a dinger to old buddy John Ryan Murphy

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