For all of Aaron Judge’s success in his career, his seasons have ended in disappointment.
There was the ALDS defeat to the Red Sox in 2018 that’s been bookended by a pair of defeats to the Astros in the ALCS.
And last year, Judge stood in the visiting clubhouse at Minute Maid Park in Houston and called the Yankees’ season “a failure” following their elimination in Game 6.
“I think about it every day, to be honest,’’ Judge said Sunday of the playoff exits. “It’s something I don’t think I’ll ever let go until we have a chance to win a championship. That fuels me. I hate losing. Any time I think about past years, getting kicked out of the playoffs, the next one stings as much as the one before. That’s what motivates me.”
Now that he and much of the rest of the lineup are healthy, the Yankees certainly have better odds of rewriting history.
And Judge figures to be in the middle of it.
His first-inning home run in Game 1 of the wild-card series against the Indians in Cleveland helped set the tone for the two-game sweep.
“There’s just a presence he has and an edge he plays the game with, obviously, between the lines, but there’s a palpable feeling amongst our club when he’s in the dugout,’’ Aaron Boone said of the right fielder. “There’s no doubt in my mind he likes playing when there’s more on the line and the bigger these games are. The reason he’s playing is he wants to be champion and we’re at that time of the year. And there’s no question guys feed off that.”
The Game 1 homer was also his first home run since he’d returned from a trip to the injured list due to a calf injury.
Despite the lack of power after he’d come off the IL, Judge said there was never a cause for concern.
“We didn’t have a chance to have any rehab games to work kinks out and see pitches,” Judge said of rehabbing at the team’s alternate site in Scranton due to the COVID-caused cancellation of the minor league season. “We got thrown right into [major league] games when it mattered. The most important thing was winning those games to put ourselves in a good position.”
And not, he said, to worry about hitting home runs.
This year, according to Judge, the Yankees viewed the 60-game regular season as preparation for something bigger.
“The regular season was like spring training,’’ Judge said. “The real season is the playoffs. That’s when the real team shows up. And we showed in Cleveland for those two [wild-card] games. … It’s a scary lineup we’ve got when everyone is full go.’’
And Judge and Co. believe they finally are healthy and ready to go.