Payday: Judge wins it for Yankees on eve of salary showdown

New York Yankees' Aaron Hicks runs the bases after hitting a three-run home run during the ninth inning of the team's baseball game against the Houston Astros on Thursday, June 23, 2022, in New York.  (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

New York Yankees’ Aaron Hicks runs the bases after hitting a three-run home run during the ninth inning of the team’s baseball game against the Houston Astros on Thursday, June 23, 2022, in New York. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

AP

Aaron Judge lined a game-winning single on the eve of his arbitration showdown, capping a four-run ninth inning that included Aaron Hicks’ tying three-run homer off closer Ryan Pressly in the New York Yankees’ 7-6 victory over the Houston Astros on Thursday night.

Batting with two on against Ryne Stanek, Judge smoked a 3-0 splitter into the left-field corner to score Jose Trevino from second base. It was the Yankees’ ninth walk-off win in 70 games this season — their most since 1943 — and one that seemed mighty likely when they entered the last inning with only two hits.

New York took the opener of a highly anticipated four-game series between the American League’s top two teams, winning for the 19th time in 22 games to improve to 52-18 — the third-best 70-game start in the majors since 1930.

New York also extended its home winning streak to 15 games, the team’s longest since 1961.

The Yankees entered Thursday tied for the major league lead with 20 comeback victories. No. 21 might be the most memorable.

Giancarlo Stanton, who hit a three-run homer in the first inning, led off the ninth with a walk against Pressly, and Gleyber Torres drew another during a plate appearance that included a lengthy delay because Torres had something in his eye.

The switch-hitting Hicks then dug in from the left side and crushed a no-doubter to right field, just the third hit for the Yankees all night and first since Stanton’s homer.

Hicks’ third homer of the season sent the crowd of 44,071 into a frenzy.

“This was a playoff atmosphere right there,” Judge said. “When Hicks hit that homer I just looked into the bleachers, everybody was jumping around going crazy. This is a big series, and we’re looking forward to tomorrow.”

Isiah Kiner-Falefa followed with an infield single but was thrown out trying to steal second — a close call upheld via replay.

Trevino then lined a one-out single, prompting manager Dusty Baker to pull Pressly (1-2). Trevino also had a go-ahead, two-run homer in the eighth inning of a 5-4 win at Tampa Bay on Wednesday night.

Pressly, a two-time All-Star, entered with a 5.71 ERA in 18 career appearances against the Yankees, including the postseason.

Stanek walked DJ LeMahieu, then fell behind Judge 3-0 as fans serenaded the slugger with “MVP!” chants.

“I knew I was gonna get the job done,” Judge said after his third career walk-off hit and second this season.

“That’s when this game’s at its best right there, moments like that,” he added. “Crowd’s on their feet, game’s on the line. They’re the moments in your backyard you dream about.”

Miguel Castro (4-0) worked a hitless inning for the win.

Next up: an unusual in-season arbitration hearing Friday — rulings are usually made in the offseason but were pushed past opening day due to the sport’s labor lockout. Judge is asking for a $21 million salary, while New York has offered $17 million in his final season before reaching free agency.

The Astros’ Alex Bregman and Stanton exchanged three-run homers in the first inning, and Houston’s Yordan Álvarez cracked another three-run drive in the third against Yankees starter Jameson Taillon.

Astros starter Framber Valdez steadied himself after a rocky first inning. Jose Altuve had three hits and right fielder Kyle Tucker robbed a potential homer in the eighth for Houston, but the Astros fell to 43-26 on a rare down night for the majors’ leading bullpen.

Stanton became the first player to homer off Valdez’s elite curveball this season, and the left-hander shied away from his best pitch after that — to stellar results. With a heavy dose of sinkers, Valdez struck out seven over six innings, allowing just the three runs on two hits, both in the first inning.

Valdez looked primed to go deep in the game until Anthony Rizzo grinded out a 16-pitch walk in the sixth. Valdez was pulled after 101 pitches.

Héctor Neris pitched a perfect seventh, and Tucker helped Rafael Montero get through the eighth. After Judge reached on Bregman’s error at third base, Rizzo smoked what he thought was a two-run homer to right. With Rizzo jogging to first, Tucker leaped into the wall and grabbed the line drive for the third out.

Taillon allowed a season-high six runs, interrupting a stellar first half after years of being hampered by health woes. Houston had 10 hits in 5 2/3 innings against the right-hander.

Fans showed up fiery for the renewal of a blossoming baseball rivalry — Houston has eliminated the Yankees from three postseasons since 2015, including during their scandal-tainted 2017 World Series run.

Bronx fans were delighted when Taillon plunked Altuve leading off the game, but they sank back into their seats when Bregman slugged his homer to left field moments later. The lull ended when Stanton countered with his drive in the bottom of the inning.

Álvarez, who homered twice against the Mets on Wednesday night, smacked a low, 113 mph line drive into Yankee Stadium’s short right-field porch in the third. Álvarez’s 22 homers trail only Judge’s 27 for the major league lead.

MIXED BAG

Yankees right fielder Joey Gallo made a spectacular play in the second inning, sprinting across the foul line and leaping at the roughly 8-foot wall to catch Martin Maldonado’s flyball.

As has been the case most of the season, Gallo wasn’t so sharp at the plate, going 0 for 4 with three strikeouts.

TRAINER’S ROOM

Astros: SS Jeremy Peña (thumb discomfort) worked out on the field, and Houston planned to evaluate him afterward. … OF Jakeyers (left shoulder) surgery rejoined the team after completing a minor league rehab but was not activated.

Yankees: Traded RHP David McKay to Tampa Bay for cash, optioned RHP Clarke Schmidt to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and added RHP Albert Abreu to the active roster. Abreu was with the Yankees from 2017-21, mostly in the minors, but was traded in April to Texas for Trevino. Abreu has since been waived by the Rangers and Royals, and New York claimed him from Kansas City this week.

UP NEXT

Astros ace Justin Verlander (8-3, 2.30 ERA) pitches at Yankee Stadium for the first time since Game 5 of the 2019 AL Championship Series, a 4-1 Houston loss. He’s 3-4 with a 4.02 ERA in 10 career starts at the ballpark. He’ll oppose New York RHP Luis Severino (4-1, 3.27) on Friday night.

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