Aaron Judge’s power at the plate is not subtle. There is nothing understated about a giant man mashing a tiny ball into oblivion at blistering speed. The violence is raw and primal. It is easy to understand and appreciate.
But Judge has another power. It is intangible and, unlike his tape-measure homers, can’t be dissected via StatCast. Judge has the power to make people believe. And he did just that when the Yankees and their nervous fans needed it most.
Last night the slugger stepped to the plate in the bottom of the seventh inning. Houston held a 4-0 lead and were nine outs from taking a 3-1 ALCS lead. The home side had done nothing with the bats all night and a sense of deep dread and resignation filled the air.
Judge changed all that with one swing of the bat, blasting a 427-foot homer to straightaway center. The lifeless Bronx night became electrified. The energy ignited the Yankees, who scored another run in the frame, then tacked on four more in the eighth.
Judge added another clutch extra-base hit to tie the game, going down to golf a pitch off the left-field wall to send Yankee Stadium up for grabs. That’s what Judge does. He makes people believe in the improbable and rewards them for it.
Not all home runs are created equal. If Brett Gardner had hit a solo shot to cut the Astros’ lead to 4-1, it wouldn’t have been as game-changing. Judge is different. He is a Ruthian figure playing on the biggest stage with the most important franchise in sports.
His ample accomplishments are ascribed more value. There is a mythical aura around his being. The poetic subtext of sports becomes the actual text when he delivers.
If you’re skeptical, consider some corollaries.
Early this season, Lambeau Field was dead as the Packers allowed the Bengals to build a significant lead. One big play from Aaron Rodgers, the local deity, changed the atmosphere and Green Bay came back. The Cleveland Cavaliers can look helpless and lethargic but are always just one LeBron James highlight away from regaining the necessary catalyst to regain mojo. These transcendent players carry powers both seen and unseen. Judge, though still in the infancy of his career, belongs in the select group.
Sometimes a solo home run is more than a solo home run, no matter what the analytical part of the brain wants you to think. And sometimes that reality isn’t fully realized until much, much later.