Whatever gets decided, the verdict has already come down in the Bronx: Judge is going to be worth every penny.
The steady, 6-foot-7 slugger lined a game-winning single on the eve of his arbitration showdown, capping a four-run ninth inning that included Aaron Hicks‘ tying three-run homer off closer Ryan Pressly in the Yankees’ 7-6 victory over the Houston Astros on Thursday night.
Batting with two on against Ryne Stanek, Judge smoked a 3-0 splitter into the left-field corner to score Jose Trevino from second base. It was the Yankees’ ninth walk-off win in 70 games this season — their most since 1943 — and one that seemed mighty unlikely when they entered the last inning with only two hits.
“There’s a sign on the way out to the dugout that says, ‘Do Your Job,'” Judge said. “That’s what I tried to do in that situation.”
A job with an unknown salary, for now. The 30-year-old will have an unusual in-season arbitration hearing Friday — rulings are usually made in the offseason but were pushed past opening day this year due to the sport’s labor lockout.
Judge is asking for $21 million. New York has offered $17 million. The arbitrator will be charged with picking one salary or the other — nothing in between.
The hearing comes after the sides failed to reach agreement on a long-term contract prior to Judge’s opening-day deadline this spring, meaning No. 99 could leave the Yankees to chase a free-agent deal elsewhere after the season.
Asked about Friday’s meeting, Judge smiled and said only, “We’ll talk after.”
“We always hope the best for our guys in arbitration and stuff like that,” Hicks said. “We want him here as a Yankee.”
New York took the opener of a highly 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 70-game start in the majors since 1930.
New York also extended its home winning streak to 15 games, the team’s longest since 1961.
The Yankees entered Thursday tied for the major league lead with 20 comeback victories. No. 21 might top them all.
Giancarlo Stanton, who hit a three-run homer in the first inning, led off the ninth with a walk against Pressly, and Gleyber Torres drew another during a plate appearance that included a lengthy delay because Torres had something in his eye.
The switch-hitting Hicks then dug in from the left side and crushed a no-doubter to right field, just the third hit for the Yankees all night and first since Stanton’s homer.
Hicks’ third homer of the season sent the crowd of 44,071 into a frenzy.
“This was a playoff atmosphere right there,” Judge said.
Isiah Kiner-Falefa followed with an infield single but was thrown out trying to steal second — a close call upheld via replay.
Trevino lined a one-out single, prompting manager Dusty Baker to pull Pressly (1-2), a two-time All-Star who entered with a 5.71 ERA in 18 career appearances against the Yankees, including the postseason.
Stanek walked DJ LeMahieu, then fell behind Judge 3-0 as fans serenaded the slugger with “MVP!” chants.
“I knew I was gonna get the job done,” Judge said after his third career walk-off hit and second this season.
“That’s when this game’s at its best right there, moments like that. Crowd’s on their feet, game’s on the line. They’re the moments in your backyard you dream about.”
Miguel Castro (4-0) worked a hitless inning for the win.
Astros starter Framber Valdez steadied himself after a rocky first inning. Jose Altuve had three hits and right fielder Kyle Tucker robbed a potential homer in the eighth for Houston, but the Astros fell to 43-26 on a rare down night for the majors’ leading bullpen.
“Things started unraveling and we couldn’t put it back,” Baker said.
Valdez struck out seven over six innings, allowing just the three runs on two hits, both in the first inning. He looked primed to go deep in the game until Anthony Rizzo grinded out a 16-pitch walk in the sixth. Valdez was pulled after 101 pitches.
Héctor Neris pitched a perfect seventh, and Tucker helped Rafael Montero get through the eighth by leaping at the wall to catch a drive Rizzo thought was a surefire homer.
Taillon allowed a season-high six runs, interrupting a stellar first half after years of being hampered by health woes. Houston had 10 hits in 5 2/3 innings against the right-hander.
Alvarez, who homered twice against the Mets on Wednesday night, smacked a low, 113 mph line drive into Yankee Stadium’s short right-field porch in the third. Alvarez’s 22 homers trail only Judge’s 27 for the major league lead.