Aaron Judge might not win the MVP Award in the American League. But what he has established in his hit-or-miss postseason -- and there have been a lot more misses than hits so far, let's face it -- is that he continues to be the baseball version of that beer commercial. Big guy remains "the most interesting man in the world."
This is about the combination of power and star power, something as old as the game and certainly all the way back to Babe Ruth, whether Judge is hitting a home run or striking out again, something he had done 21 times in these playoffs through his first 34 at-bats, or being as much of a show in the field as he was at the plate on Monday night against the Astros.
The home run he hit in the bottom of the fourth, a line-drive, three-run shot that reminded you of a hooking three-iron in golf, officially turned Game 3 of the American League Championship Series into a beatdown, stretching the Yankees lead from 5-0 to 8-0. He had already struck out -- again -- by then, bottom of the first. But with that one home run swing, Judge produced just two fewer runs than the Astros have scored in the ALCS, despite the fact that they would leave Yankee Stadium still holding a 2-1 game lead (both their wins have been 2-1, of course).
On Monday night, Judge would chase down Yuli Gurriel's ball at the right-field wall, and time his jump perfectly, and use all of his 6-foot-7 frame to catch the ball before crashing into that wall. Glove above the wall again, like Judge is blocking these shots as much as catching them. Later on, he would come sprinting in toward home plate and make a diving catch in short right on Cameron Maybin. He continues to remind you of a comic-book hero, like he could be playing for the X-Men in his spare time, and in pinstripes.
Through Game 3, he had all the strikeouts, and seven walks and five hits for the postseason. And the two home runs. He didn't even have the most important home run swing on this night for his team. That had come from Todd Frazier, a Little League World Series hero from Tom's River, N.J., now trying to help hit his team into the real World Series. Somehow in the bottom of the second off Charlie Morton, Frazier managed to transform a lunging, excuse-me swing on a 1-1 pitch and get enough bat on ball to get the ball into a jet stream to right at Yankee Stadium, where there always seems to be a jet stream to right.
Three-run homer. 3-0 Yankees in Game 3. Another October home run swing at the Stadium that made the crowd explode and exhale at the same time, something it has been doing since Didi Gregorius' three-run homer tied the Yankees AL Wild Card Game against the Twins in the bottom of the first. The Yankees were going to get this game. CC Sabathia, with another big-game performance out of the past, was pitching too well, would pitch that way through the top of the sixth, six shutout innings for him, three hits, five strikeouts, his record becoming 10-0 this season after a Yankee loss.
And in that five-run fourth, you bet, Will Harris of the Astros, out of the bullpen, helped give the 48,000 and change what they wanted. Harris tried to get a cutter up and in and past Judge and the ball was over the left-field wall faster than, well, you could say "All Rise."
"Harris has got a good cutter and curveball. I was trying to see a cutter up in the zone," Judge said later. "Just try to get a pitch up and do some damage."
Well, yeah. The damage part, mostly. Big man as very bad man, again.
In what has so often become a hit-or-miss sport, and where everybody except Uber drivers seem to have hit 20 home runs, Judge has become the poster boy of it all, a baseball player nearly as big and athletic as LeBron James.
Judge sure did go to the wall again to rob Gurriel. Of course, he had put his glove above the wall in another Game 3 against the Indians, with the Yankees facing elimination in the ALDS. That night at Yankee Stadium, he took a home run away from Francisco Lindor that would have put the Indians ahead 2-0 and likely ended the season for the New York Yankees.
Again: Judge didn't provide the biggest swing of Game 3. That belonged to Frazier. And -- big picture -- maybe the most important moment after Frazier's home run was provided by Sabathia, when he popped out Carlos Correa with the bases loaded in the top of the third, the Astros trying to come right back after Frazier had made it 3-0. But this was a night, one more, when Judge reminded you of what an amazing, entertaining skill set he has, and just how much sheer, stupid fun it is to watch him play baseball.
"It was his night," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said after Game 3. "He played defense. He did a lot of things for them and was really a big difference in the game."
Once, when the Yankees were becoming the Yankees again in 1996, Derek Jeter became the player kids wanted to be. He became the face of the team, and all the winning that would come later. Jeter made No. 2 the number the kids wanted to wear. Now, all this time later, as the Yankees begin to matter again, as the crowds come to them in a way they haven't for a Yankees team in years, it is a completely different number that has become hugely popular. A number way up there, the way Judge is way up there:
He does not just hit the "big fly," as Reggie Jackson said about him earlier in the year. Now Judge catches them, too. Along with catching everything else. He slumped badly after the All-Star Break, and came back. He has so often looked terrible against the Astros, to the point where manager Joe Girardi started complaining about his strike zone and sounded like an NBA coach working the refs in the playoffs. Then No. 99 came back with his own three-run shot in Game 3.
A ballplayer built like LeBron. Big man, big swings, big misses, big plays in the field. Go take a look at the catch on Gurriel, Judge against the wall and the PlayStation ad out there. Words underneath are "Greatness Awaits." Most interesting man in the baseball world. Stay thirsty, Yankee fans.