A hangover lineup? A largely meaningless game after the New York Yankees had clinched the AL East? Manager Aaron Boone added one more ingredient to the mix that may have helped alleviate the pressure for Aaron Judge in his quest to tie Roger Maris’ all-time single-season AL home run mark: fill-in player manager Anthony Rizzo.
Rizzo, who one might say, based on dugout interaction and the way he speaks about Judge, is viewed as one of Judge’s best buds in the clubhouse, was leading the charge as manager on Wednesday night as Marwin Gonzalez took over his duties at first base.
Against Mitch White and the Toronto Blue Jays, Rizzo had Judge leading off, Oswaldo Cabrera hitting second, Oswald Peraza starting at shortstop and batting cleanup, and Aaron Hicks starting in left field.
The results were … about as good as they could’ve been. The Yankees won 8-3, Judge tied Maris with his 61st bomb of the season — a go-ahead two-run shot in the top of the seventh — while Cabrera scored two runs, Peraza notched two hits, a run scored and an RBI, and Hicks went 3-for-3 with a run scored and a walk.
For a night when the pressure was relieved due to a division clinch, baseball was fun again for the Yankees. It wasn’t as business-oriented. And it’s hard to say that didn’t have an impact on Judge getting the monkey off his back with his record-tying homer. Rizz was right there when Judge crossed home plate, too.
Aaron Boone appointing Anthony Rizzo as Yankees’ acting manager helped Aaron Judge
Cubs fans even knew this was the right decision! It’s not that Boone was doing anything wrong, it was just the fact that switching things up, taking the foot off the gas pedal, and creating a more jovial atmosphere offered a more accommodating setting for Judge to join the history books.
The baseball community was growing tired of Judge not leaving the park since Sept. 20. The discourse was getting unreasonably negative. “He’s never going to do it.” “He’ll be stuck on 60.” “This isn’t even the real home run record anyway.” If you don’t want to watch, then don’t watch!
You’d think the guy made an error in Game 7 of the World Series to lose … but in reality he just didn’t hit a home run with the most elevated pressure you’ve ever seen while pitchers were being the most careful approaching him they’ve been all season in his previous 33 plate appearances.
Boone likely noticed the same old order of operations needed to change for one night and provided the necessary managerial touch to make it happen.
It’s not that Boonie is the guy you don’t want to see when you’re departing the dugout for the on-deck circle or arriving back after making an out or crossing home plate, but you can’t say it’s a bad change of pace to see Rizzo’s energy and one-of-a-kind smirk bookending a potential historic moment.