NEW YORK — Aaron Judge did his best to bring his offseason alter ego to life on Thursday, setting fire to the Giants with his first swing of the 2023 season.
Judge, aka “Arson” after an erroneous report sent him to San Francisco over the winter, took Giants pitcher Logan Webb deep in his first at-bat on opening day in the Yankees’ 5-0 win.
The first-inning solo shot, a 422-foot drive into Monument Park, started the scoring for the Yankees as Judge picked up where he left off after clubbing a team and American League-record 62 dingers a season ago.
The reigning American League MVP followed his blast up with an RBI bloop in the seventh.
“I was just trying to make solid contact” and elevate a pitch, Judge said, noting Webb’s “nasty” sinker-change-up mix and knack for inducing groundballs and weak contact. “Getting a chance to get one run on the board there early for [Gerrit] Cole was huge. It kind of let him settle in and work with a little bit of a lead.”
And as for the free-agency saga that could have placed Judge in the opposing dugout on Thursday?
“I didn’t want to go anywhere. I was pretty vocal about that from the beginning,” Judge said. “All in all, this is where I wanted to be. I’m happy I’m here. It’s tough to think about being anywhere else.”
Cole, meanwhile, did some record-setting of his own on Thursday, notching a new franchise opening day mark with 11 strikeouts.
Afterward, Cole proudly noted that the previous record-holder, Tim Leary, is also a UCLA alumnus.
“He was a Bruin,” Cole said with a smile. “I just had to throw that out there.”
Leary struck out nine on opening day in 1991.
Webb claimed the same record in the Giants’ history books with 12 strikeouts, though he allowed four earned runs in the loss.
Cole didn’t surrender any over six frames and held San Francisco to just three hits. He also walked two on 95 pitches while inducing 17 whiffs, primarily with his fastball and change-up.
Yankees manager Aaron Boone said that he thought Cole’s change-up was aided by the cold conditions. The right-hander’s high-90s heater didn’t hurt either.
“I thought he had good stuff and a really good fastball,” Boone said. “The way he was able to move his fastball around all day, challenge up at the top of the zone, especially with their lefties, having a presence inside. I thought his change-up was an effective pitch for him today, especially against all the lefties. And with it being a little cooler and the wind blowing, he was getting some good movement on that pitch.”
Cole, meanwhile, credited his catcher for his change-up’s effectiveness.
“Well, I noticed it was really good from the get-go,” Cole said. “[Jose Trevino] just picked really good times to use it. He was on it.”
Gleyber Torres and DJ LeMahieu provided the Yankees’ other runs. Torres lofted a two-run homer to right off Webb in the fourth inning, while LeMahieu picked up an RBI single in the seventh.
Webb only allowed 11 longballs last year, but Torres was able to go 378 feet the other way after Judge had already gotten to the righty.
“He’s capable of doing that, and he’s capable of hitting it with authority over there,” Boone said of Torres. “Who he did it off, it’s a tough customer.”
Anthony Volpe, meanwhile, made his highly-anticipated debut. The shortstop and No. 9 hitter became the first rookie to appear in an opening day Yankees lineup since Judge did so in 2017.
Volpe, a New Jersey native and childhood Yankees fan, forced a walk, swiped a base and struck out during his first-ever Yankee Stadium opener. He also won over the Bleacher Creatures when he responded to his first roll call by kissing the Yankees logo on his jersey.
Judge, who made a similar gesture last postseason, played a part in Volpe’s reaction.
“He was asking me about it,” Volpe said. “I kind of just thought of it on the spot, just cause I remember he did it last year. Right when I brought it up, he gave me the thumbs up, so I knew that’s what I had to do.”
Volpe called the game “probably the most fun day in my entire life,” and he admitted to feeling “goosebumps” throughout the afternoon. The 21-year-old didn’t know how many friends and family members were in attendance, but his mom, Isabelle, handled ticket requests. Volpe, meanwhile, shared photos of Yankee Stadium with his parents on his way in Thursday morning before posing for family pictures postgame.
“I wouldn’t be anywhere without them,” Volpe said of his family. “All my success, all my accomplishments, are because of them. So to be able to share that moment with them and the whole day with them, the full experience with them, makes it all better.”