Aaron Judge is a big Rafael Devers fan: 'He's a special talent'

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Tomase: Rafael Devers has a big fan in Yankees star Aaron Judge originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

If there's anyone in baseball who knows what it's like to hit a pitcher's best stuff 450 feet, it's Aaron Judge. And even if the Yankees slugger didn't exactly enjoy his front row seat to the Rafael Devers show on Thursday night, he couldn't help but respect it.

What Devers did to Yankees ace Gerrit Cole in Boston's 6-5 loss was nothing short of incredible. Facing one of the premier pitchers in baseball on a night when he had elite stuff, Devers treated him like a Little League coach serving him underhand tosses.

First Devers crushed what looked like a perfectly executed slider down and in for a 434-foot two-run homer over the visiting bullpen in the third. Two innings later he smashed a changeup below the zone 425 feet off the back of the center field wall for a three-run shot.

Judge, who missed the game with sore calves, marveled from the dugout.

"Oh, it's been impressive," he told NBC Sports Boston. "It just speaks volumes to what type of player he is and what he can do, man. It's been fun watching him from afar. I usually like watching him more on TV than when he's facing us, but he's a special talent. It's fun to see him develop over the years."

This is a matter of game respecting game, as they say. If the season ended today, Judge would probably be American League MVP. He's hitting .287 with 30 homers and a .993 OPS for the best team in baseball.

But Devers would be in the conversation, too. He returned after missing a couple of days with a sore hamstring to run his average to .330 with 19 homers and a .985 OPS. He also continued his utter domination of Cole, whom he has now homered off of six times. That's two more than anyone else, his blasts ranging from 373 to 451 feet. He has crushed fastballs of 98, 99, and 100 mph, two changeups, and a slider.

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"It's not just the same pitch," Judge said. "It's not like he's just lining up heaters or lining up off-speed pitches. I've seen him take heaters out, I've seen him take tonight a slider, a changeup to center, right field. It's just consistent at-bats. I don't see him chasing a lot. When you don't chase and you get into good counts, good things are going to happen."

Try telling that to Cole, who basically threw up his hands.

It's been fun watching him from afar. I usually like watching him more on TV than when he's facing us, but he's a special talent.

Aaron Judge on Rafael Devers

"I'm open for suggestions," he said. "You guys are all watching the game, too. I mean, obviously he has the ability to ride the ball out at the bottom of the zone. He has the ability to catch up to my fastball, he's proven that, so both pitches were pretty well executed.

"...Changeup down under the zone, he just winds up, uncorks, lets that bottom hand ride the pitch out. We said a homer doesn't beat us right here, so let's go make our pitches. We made our pitches, gave up a homer, but it didn't beat us."

Cole is a four-time All-Star with five top-five finishes in the Cy Young voting. He's the highest-paid pitcher in history, and his stuff on Thursday was electric, with a fastball that reached 101 mph.

Against Devers, it didn't matter.

"It's pretty wild," Cole said. "He's just been able to hit everything. There hasn't been a mis-hit. Roll over one time. Line out one time. You're supposed to fail seven out of 10 times in this gig. I don't know what the deal is. We'll just have to keep at it, man. Just keep at it.

"WTF, man," he added. "But it didn't beat us. It didn't beat us."

In the visiting dugout, Judge watched the performance with respect, a massive smile spreading involuntarily across his massive face as he discussed his fellow slugger.

"In a situation like that, you've just got to tip your cap," he said. "Cole made some great pitches there. He was dealing. He kept that whole lineup off balance all night, he makes two great pitches, and Devers is a great hitter. He did his thing.

"Those are tough ones to swallow, but you've just got to tip your cap. I know how tough that is. To do that, it's impressive."