In 2004, Derek Jeter risked his limbs and raced headfirst into the third row, picking up an out while bloodying his face against the Red Sox.
A decade ago, another rookie, reliever Joba Chamberlain, took over the summer and lifted the Yankees to a playoff appearance.
Last year, rookie Gary Sanchez seemed to hit a homer per day.
Now, Judge is mixing all this into one amazing brew.
On Wednesday night at Fenway Park, the 6-foot-7, 282-pound Judge celebrated his 25th birthday with his first game in the Yankees-Red Sox series. The right fielder punctuated a 3-1 win with his seventh homer and a Jeter-esque catch, and another night that ended with: Did you see what Aaron Judge did?
“It is impressive what he has done,” Yankees manager Joe Girardi said.
It is still a little too early to say Judge is about to take over this Yankees season — as Joba did out of the ’07 bullpen, striking out everyone in sight — but less than a month in, there are indications nearly every night that Judge might do so.
On Wednesday, the first pitch Judge saw in the game’s greatest rivalry was an 89 mph two-seam fastball out of the hand of 2016 AL Cy Young Award winner Rick Porcello. It tailed over the plate, allowing the right-handed-hitting Judge to meet the ball with the barrel of his bat. When that happens, the baseball flies a long way, and this shot voyaged the opposite way over the short wall in right for a two-run homer.
The only other Yankees to homer on their birthdays at Fenway: Yogi Berra and Roger Maris, according to Elias. That is the kind of company the 25-year-old Judge is keeping these days.
In the third inning, Judge sprinted from his position in right toward the foul line. In a 2004 game against the Red Sox, Jeter gave up his body, making a catch at the old Yankee Stadium and then heading full speed into the third row of the stands in shallow left field. The shortstop scraped himself off the seats and carried on, bloodied and more of a legend.
On Wednesday night, Xander Bogaerts fouled off a ball that veered into the stands in right. Judge went after the ball with reckless abandon.
“I saw a ball I could get to and I was trying to do anything I could do to try and catch it,” Judge said.
Judge made the play as he flipped into the first row of seats. Judge came up with the ball and, fortunately for the fans nearby, he didn’t land on anyone.
“That’s a big boy getting piled on the nachos and peanuts,” left fielder Brett Gardner said.
Judge might end his career more like Joba than Jeter, but the rookie has already answered questions about his potential and his personality that make it seem the latter is possible.
In quick fashion, Judge has displayed the sort of athlete he is and shown he is not too big to succeed at baseball’s highest level. He is fast and nimble, like an NFL tight end. He is not just a lumbering guy who can mash homers. Plus, his commitment to winning is, dare we say it, Jeter-esque.
His answers to questions are deferential, sort of bland, similar to the old captain’s. The tao of Jeter was to always put winning above anything else. That might sound cliché in a way, but he left an ethos that has lived on with these up-and-coming young players. Judge has learned all these Yankees lessons.
After the win, Judge smiled about the whole event, pretty much reacting in the same, not-all-that-impressed way that has succeeded each of his feats.
His manager was worried that Judge hurt himself on the catch, though Judge did not seem concerned. It was almost as if it was just another birthday for him.
It wasn’t really, but it was just another day that ended with: Did you see what Aaron Judge did?