Payday: Judge wins for Yankees on eve of salary showdown

NEW YORK — Aaron Judge delivered a winning single on the eve of his pay-arbitration showdown to end a ninth inning for four runs, including Aaron Hicks tying in with three runs off closer Ryan Pressly in the New York’s 7-6 win York Yankees at the Houston Astros on Thursday night.

Judge hit with two to Ryne Stanek and smoked a 3-0 splitter into the left corner to score Jose Trevino from second base. It was the Yankees’ ninth victory in 70 games this season – the most since 1943 – and a win that seemed highly unlikely as they went into the last inning with only two hits.

New York was the opening game of a much-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 start of 70 games in the majors since 1930.

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

The Yankees started right away with the Major League lead on Thursday with 20 comeback wins. No. 21 is arguably 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 pulled another in a long-delayed at bat because Torres caught something in his eye.

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

Hicks’ third homer of the season infuriated the crowd of 44,071.

“This was a playoff atmosphere there,” Judge said. “When Hicks hit that homer, I just looked in the stands, everyone was jumping around and going crazy. This is a big run 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 that was confirmed via replay.

Trevino then lined out with an one-out single, forcing manager Dusty Baker to remove Pressly (1-2). Trevino also had a leading, two-run homer in the eighth inning of a 5-4 win in Tampa Bay on Wednesday-evening.

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

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

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

“That’s when this game is at its best there, at moments like this,” he added. “The crowd is on their feet, the game is on the line. It’s the moments in your backyard that you dream about.”

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

Up next: An unusual in-season arbitration hearing on Friday – rulings are usually made out of season but were pushed past opening day due to the sport’s labor lockout. Judge is demanding a $21 million salary, while New York has bid $17 million in his final season before reaching free agency.

Alex Bregman and Stanton of the Astros exchanged three-run home runs 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 balanced himself after a rocky first inning. Jose Altuve had three hits and rightfielder Kyle Tucker robbed a potential homer in the eighth for Houston, but the Astros fell to 43-26 on a rare night for the leading bullpen of the majors.

Stanton became the first player to homer from Valdez’s elite curveball this season, and the southpaw then shied away from his best throw – to get some great results. With a good dose of sinkers, Valdez struckout seven batters in six innings, giving up only three runs on two hits, both in the first inning.

Valdez looked ready to go deep into the game, until Anthony Rizzo walked for 16 pitches in the sixth. Valdez was pulled after 101 pitches.

Héctor Neris threw a perfect seventh and Tucker helped Rafael Montero through the eighth. After Judge advanced to third base on an error by Bregman, Rizzo smoked what he thought was a two run homerun to the right. As Rizzo pushed for first place, Tucker jumped against the wall and lined out for third.

Taillon allowed a season-high six points and interrupted a great first half after years of being hampered by health issues. Houston had 10 hits in 5 2/3 innings against the righthander.

Fans turned up fervently for the renewal of a thriving baseball rivalry – Houston has knocked the Yankees out in three postseasons since 2015, including during their scandal-infested 2017 World Series run.

Bronx fans were elated when Taillon knocked down Altuve early in the game, but they slumped back into their seats when Bregman dragged his homer to left field moments later. The silence ended when Stanton countered with his drive in the bottom of the inning.

Álvarez, who homered twice against the Mets on Wednesday-evening, blasted a low 235 mph line drive into the short right field porch of Yankee Stadium in the third inning. Álvarez’s 22 home runs follow only Judge’s 27 for the Major League lead.

MIXED BAG

Yankees rightfielder Joey Gallo made a spectacular play in the second inning, sprinting over the foul line and jumping the 2-meter wall to catch the flyball from Martín Maldonado.

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

TRAINERS ROOM

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

Yankees: Traded RHP David McKay to Tampa Bay for cash, optionally 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 to Texas for Trevino in April. Abreu has since been waived by the Rangers and Royals, and New York claimed him from Kansas City this week.

NEXT ONE

Astros ace Justin Verlander (8-3, 2.30 ERA) makes his first pitch since Game 5 of the 2019 AL Championship Series at Yankee Stadium, losing 4-1 in Houston. He is 3-4 with a 4.02 ERA in 10 career starts in the margins. He will face New York RHP Luis Severino (4-1, 3.27) on Friday evening.

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