PITTSBURGH (AP) — Aaron Judge felt like he was stuck on 29 home runs for “a while.”
Of course, “a while” is a relative term when it comes to the New York Yankees Butcher. What Judge thought of as some kind of drought was actually a four-game period.
A powerful swing put Judge back on track and helped the Yankees get off to a smashing start into the second half of their schedule.
Judge sent a laser to the seats in left field in the eighth inning for his third career grand slam – and 30th homer of the season, the most in the majors – while New York held the Pittsburgh Pirates 16-0 on Wednesday night to split their two-game interleague set.
Aaron Hicks added a grand slam of his own in an inning later that evening when the Yankees hit a total of six homeruns to bring their team total to a leading 139 in the Major League.
Giancarlo Stanton† Josh DonaldsonJoey Gallo and Kyle Higashioka also homered for New York as backs Luis Severino†
“Games like this help guys get their rolls,” Judge said. “Guys had good at bats, put in some balls and all of a sudden guys went away for a week or two or a whole month or even the rest of the season.”
It’s a zone the judge has apparently been in since opening day. Hours after Yankees owner Hal Steinbrenner admitted it takes a record deal to keep Judge from hitting free agency next winter, the outfielder seemed worth every penny. He finished with three of the 22 highest hits of the season in New York and became the first Yankees player to reach the 30-homers plateau before the All-Star break twice in his career.
It’s a song that made New York manager Aaron Boone shake his head.
“It’s hard for me to empathize with that,” said Boone, who never hit more than 26 home runs a season during his 12-year career. “So it was pretty impressive, whatever — half way here — the kind of baseball he plays. Obviously the power was there.”
Hicks cleared the bases in the ninth when he went deep against Pirates utility infielder Josh VanMeterwho made his third relief appearance of the season.
“It feels like one of those guys could hit a homer at any moment,” VanMeter said. “You just go out and throw strikes and whatever happens really happens. You’re not competing there. You’re just trying to save the arms of a few pitchers and pick them up.”
Severino (5-3) gave up four hits in six dominant innings and struckout three without a walk to register his first win in over a month. The righthander retired 12 consecutive batters and retired 18 of the last 20 batters he faced after giving up a single to Ke’Bryan Hayes and a double to Bryan Reynolds to start the bottom of the first.
The win ended a two-game slip for New York, which started the second half of the season with the same recipe that propelled the Yankees to the best record in the majors and second-best start in franchise history. 81 games brought: dominant start pitching and a lot of power.
After using a small ball to take a 2-0 lead in the fourth thanks in part to a hit-and-run and a stolen base, Donaldson and Gallo grabbed Mitch Keller (2-6) deep twice in a span of three pitches in the sixth to break it open.
New York was just getting started, adding one in the seventh, five in the eighth and six in the ninth to improve to 3-3 on a four-city, 10-game road trip.
“It’s hard to hold onto this lineup,” said Pirates manager Derek Shelton. “You don’t see it happening often. They score some points and (Judge) is the catalyst for that.”
Reynolds had two of Pittsburgh’s four hits, but the Pirates were unable to score against Severino and three New York relievers.
Keller worked in and out of trouble for six innings, giving up four runs on a season-high 10 hits with a walk and seven strikeouts. He was long gone by the time New York overwhelmed Pittsburgh’s overstretched bullpen.
Yankees: Kept 1B Anthony Rizzo out of lineup for second straight game due to back stiffness. Boone indicated that Rizzo would probably also miss Thursday’s game in Boston.
Pirates: OF Greg Allen (hamstring) was scheduled to begin rehabilitation assignment in Class A Bradenton. Allen, who claimed waivers from the Yankees last fall, hasn’t played all season.
The Yankees reinstated reliever Miguel Castro from the restricted roster and assigned reliever Ryan Weber to command.
Pittsburgh reinstated reliever Yerry De Los Santos from the COVID-19 list. The Pirates selected reliever Cam Vieaux to Triple-A Indianapolis and named reliever Austin Brice for assignment.
Yankees: Head to Boston for the first time this season as they kick off a four-game weekend series at Fenway Park on Thursday night. Gerrit Cole (7-2, 2.99 ERA) takes on Boston’s Josh Winckowski (3-2, 3.12) in the opener.
Pirates: Play a day-night doubleheader in Cincinnati on Thursday.
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