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Judge's strong finish leads Yankees to playoffs

Aaron_Judge_on_September_8_2016.jpg

The month of September was a month of records for rookie sensation Aaron Judge. Judge made history last Monday as he set the single season record for most home runs by a rookie.

Judge broke Mark McGwire’s record of 49 homers with a seventh-inning shot to right field, his second home run of the game and his 50th of the season. Then, after he was walked on Thursday, Judge became the third player, aged 25 or younger, to have at least 125 runs and 125 walks in a season, joining Babe Ruth and Ted Williams.

Finally, on Saturday, Judge hit his 33rd home run at home, breaking a New York Yankees record for most home runs at home. The previous record holder was Ruth, who hit 32 home runs at the Polo Grounds in 1921. Needless to say, it has been quite the season for Judge.

It was just this spring that he was competing with Aaron Hicks to be the starting right fielder for the Yankees. Many fans doubted he would ever be a star after he struggled last September, hitting just .179 and striking out 42 times in 84 at-bats.

Judge put those fears to rest by hitting .329 with 30 home runs and 66 RBIs before the All-Star break. He then impressed the nation with a dominating performance that earned him the title of champion in the Home Run Derby, which included hitting four home runs over 500 feet.

Coming out of the All-Star break, however, it seemed like the league had figured out how to pitch to him. In 55 games after the break, Judge hit .185 with just 11 home runs.

During this time, he struck out in 36 consecutive games, which set the record for most consecutive games with a strikeout. With Judge struggling, the Yankees were unable to cut into the Boston Red Sox division lead, trailing by three games with just 17 left.

That’s when the MVP caliber Judge made his return. During the next 16 games, Judge batted .385 with 11 home runs and 24 RBIs in 52 at-bats. The Yankees went 12-4 with Judge in the lineup and this performance gave the Yankees a shot at winning the division.

The team turned a five game deficit with seven games left into a two game deficit with two games left. The Yankees ended up falling just short, as the Red Sox would end up clinching the division in game 161.

The case can be made that the Yankees did not fight for the division until the final week without Judge. This was expected to be a rebuilding year for the Yankees after they traded some of their veterans last season.

However, Judge had other plans, hitting .284 with 52 home runs, 114 RBIs, 128 runs and 127 walks. In games that Judge homered, the Yankees went 31-14. In the games that he was held without a home run, the team was just 60-57.

The postseason is back in the Bronx and the Yankees owe it all to a guy who barely made the team.

Judge provided a huge spark in the team's victory over the Minnesota Twins. Judge's fourth inning shot to left field gave the Yankees a considerable lead over the Twins. Judge was the first Yankee rookie to hit a homer in the postseason since Hideki Matsui did so nearly 14 years ago, and only the third Yankee to ever hit a home run in his playoff debut. Judge provides the Yankees with hope against a very difficult ALDS opponent, the Clevelan Indians.

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