NEW YORK â€” Surrounded at his locker after another eye-turning performance, Aaron Judge thought for a few seconds when asked if he had ever been this hot at the plate.
“Maybe Tee-ball,” he said, widening his smile.
The 6-foot-7 rookie sensation hit another long drive for his major league-leading 13th home run , singled to start the go-ahead rally and had the first three-hit game of his big league career, helping the New York Yankees rally from a four-run deficit to beat the Toronto Blue Jays 8-6 on Wednesday night.
“Judge has been out of this world,” Yankees third baseman Chase Headley said, with only a bit of hyperbole.
Matt Holliday hit his 300th home run , a three-run shot in the first, and Brett Gardner helped spark his teammates by destroying a blue recycling bin in the dugout with four mighty cuts of his bat after he was called out on strikes by Bill Welke in the sixth.
“They’ll probably fine me 15 or 20 bucks, and we’ll get a new one the next home stand,” Gardner said. “It felt good. It was a plastic trash can, so I was able to handle it pretty well. Better that than the cement wall.”
Capping a 4-2 home stand that left the Yankees atop the AL East at 17-9, pinch-hitter Didi Gregorius drove in the go-ahead run in a three-run seventh with a comebacker that could have been an inning-ending double play but instead bounced off the glove of reliever Joe Biagini (0-1) for an infield single.
Steve Pearce’s third homer in two days , a three-run shot, helped Toronto take a 4-0 lead against CC Sabathia after 16 pitches. The Blue Jays led 6-3 before Judge’s two-run homer in the third, a 435-foot drive into the netting above Monument Park behind the centre-field wall.
Selected the AL Rookie of the Month for April, Judge raised his average to .330 and has six homers in his last six games. He also has hit the second-most home runs through 26 games in Yankees history, one behind Alex Rodriguez in 2007.
New York is 11-0 when Judge homers. The right fielder, who turned 25 last week, tries to deflect attention toward his teammates.
“The good thing about him is you can tell from his demeanour and his attitude that he wants to improve, he wants to be better and he handles himself the right way, not only on the field but off the field,” former Yankees captain Derek Jeter said in a video interview on the team’s website. “So I’m a fan of his.”
Those remarks touched Judge.
“It’s incredible, especially a guy I looked up to for years growing up, to hear him say that,” he said. “It’s special. It’s humbling.”
Judge sparked the seventh-inning burst with a one-out single on a 1-2 offspeed pitch from Biagini, who had struck out his first five batters. Judge took third on Headley’s double and scored the tying run on Chris Carter’s broken-bat single to short left over a drawn-in infield.
Tyler Clippard, Dellin Betances (3-1) and Aroldis Chapman combined to retire Toronto’s last 11 batters, and Chapman got three outs to remain perfect in six save chances.
Blue Jays starter Marcus Stroman left after three innings because of tightness in his right armpit. He allowed five runs and six hits in his shortest start since the Chicago White Sox chased him after two outs on Aug. 15, 2014.
Unable to throw his cutter inside, Sabathia gave up six runs, seven hits and four walks in four-plus innings. His ERA has risen from 2.25 to 5.45 in his last three outings.
Both teams were unhappy with Welke’s wide strike zone, Gardner, Aaron Hicks and Holliday took called third strikes from Biagini in the sixth, and Yankees manager Joe Girardi was ejected for arguing a called strike to Starlin Castro leading off the seventh.
“There were four pitches that I felt weren’t strikes,” said Girardi, who thought Welke’s zone improved after his departure. “I was more pleased with it.”
Gardner walked on a close 3-2 pitch from Joe Smith in the seventh, and Hicks followed with a walk on a 3-1 offering that forced in a run and gave the Yankees a two-run lead.
Gardner said teammates wouldn’t speak with him after the game.
“They probably think I’m still angry and they’re scared to say something,” he explained with a grin.
Gardner has a seven-game hitting streak that includes four homers. His only disappointment was his lumber’s demise.
“That bat’s been good to me the last week or so,” he said.
Rookie Kyle Higashioka took a called third strike from Biagini in the fifth, stranding the bases loaded, and went 0 for 3. He is hitless in 18 big league at-bats and likely will be sent to the minors later this week when starting catcher Gary Sanchez comes off the disabled list.
Yankees: CF Jacoby Ellsbury, sidelined since Monday with a bruised nerve in his left elbow, will be evaluated Thursday so the Yankees can decide whether they need another position player for their weekend series at the Chicago Cubs. … Sanchez, who hasn’t played for the Yankees since April 8 because of a strained right biceps, went 1 for 4 in the second game of his rehab assignment at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and likely will be activated Friday. … Austin Romine, the primary catcher in Sanchez’s absence, did not play after leaving Tuesday’s game because of a groin cramp.
Yankees: RHP Michael Pineda (3-1) starts Friday’s series opener at the Chicago Cubs.
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Ronald Blum, The Associated Press