NEW YORK — Before he walked out the New York Yankees’ clubhouse door, perhaps for the final time, Aaron Judge insisted that Sunday night was no time for sentiment.
Judge’s sixth consecutive pinstriped season had just ended in another bitter playoff defeat.
‘That’s what it really comes down to, is not being the last team standing,’ Judge said after the Yankees were eliminated by the Houston Astros in a 6-5 loss at Yankee Stadium.
Judge went 1-for-16 during Houston’s four-game sweep of the American League Championship Series and took the blame for “not stepping up when the team needed it.’
Judge’s 2022 season was still one of the game’s all-time best, surpassing Roger Maris’ franchise and AL single-season home run mark with 62 and nearly winning the league’s Triple Crown.
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And the decision to reject the Yankees’ $213.5 million extension through 2029 became a brilliant strategy as Judge, 30, moves into free agency.
Here’s what some of his Yankees teammates are saying:
Anthony Rizzo, Gerrit Cole
Judge has never cared for the “bet-on-myself’’ narrative having trusted his talent, his ability to stay healthy all season, and being able to thrive amid all that unique, New York pressure.
“The numbers speak for themselves,’’ Anthony Rizzo said of Judge’s league-leading 1.111 on-base-plus-slugging percentage, 131 RBI and 133 runs scored, while blasting 16 more homers than the majors’ next closest hitter.
“The money he’s brought to this organization, this franchise, to the game of baseball — I’m sure just the money alone in September and him chasing 62 was enough to easily pay (him),’ Rizzo said.
“There’s plenty of money in this game to be spread around. I think whatever he gets is going to be astronomical and he deserves it.’
At last count, Judge’s team was said to be seeking $36 million annually, putting him right in line with Yankees’ ace Gerrit Cole.
Now, that figure might have risen to $40 million per, over nine years, and the San Francisco Giants — Judge’s favorite team growing up in Northern California — have a lot more room to spend in 2023.
“Take your time,’’ is Cole’s advice to Judge, who has never retreated from his wish to be a Yankee for life, but might also draw heavy interest from the Los Angeles Dodgers, Boston Red Sox and New York Mets.
“He’s a close friend of mine and a great teammate,’ Cole said. “l’ll be keeping in touch with him.’
As to the potential for intense negotiations with the Yankees, “I’ll just be a supportive friend and reiterate everything that he means to us,’ Cole said.
“The support, the talent, the type of player he is, is so special. So, he deserves to kind of enjoy this courting process and he deserves everything that’s coming for him.’
Nestor Cortes, DJ LeMahieu
The other day, starting pitcher Nestor Cortes essentially said it would be a slam dunk to elect Judge the next Yankees’ captain — the first since Derek Jeter — if he’s on the 2023 roster.
“He’s a big part of this team, he’s a big part of the organization,’ said Cortes. Based on Judge’s seniority in pinstripes, “he carries a lot of weight around here.
“He’s a superstar (and) hopefully he’s back next year’ since ‘all the great things he’s done here should be taken into consideration.’
A teammate of Judge’s since 2019, DJ LeMahieu said, “I’d be shocked if he’s not back, but you just never know how that goes.
“I feel like he definitely wants to be here. But when it becomes a business, it changes a lot.’
On his way out Sunday night, Judge repeated what “an incredible honor’ it’s been to wear the pinstripes.
“I always check myself pregame, say a little prayer and kind of look around the Stadium and kind of pinch myself that I get a chance to run out on that field and do that,’ Judge said of playing in front of the fans.
Maybe the roll-call salute from the right field bleacher fans was a little louder than normal.
Maybe the booing he received during the ALCS was a little more overstated; it certainly wasn’t at the Josh Donaldson level on Sunday, but Judge’s late October cold spell was a huge factor in the Yanks’ third ALCS exit against the Astros since 2017.
Representing the Yanks’ last hope to extend their season, Judge tapped a comebacker to Astros closer Ryan Pressly for Sunday’s final out.
If he goes, Judge has one regret.
“Kick myself,’ Judge said, “for not bringing home that championship.’