Aaron Judge turns balk into milestone as Yankees beat A’s, 7-3

NEW YORK — Joe Boyle thought he caught Aaron Judge looking.

With the Yankees’ center fielder facing a 1-2 count, the Athletics’ starter fired a 99-mph fastball to the lower, outside corner of the plate in the first inning. Judge froze on the pitch, watched it zip by, and slowly began walking back to the Yankees’ dugout, dismayed by his strikeout.

Except Boyle had balked prior to the pitch.

Informed of the late call, Judge flashed a quick grin before stepping back into the batter’s box. When the at-bat resumed, Boyle targeted the same part of the zone with another heater.

But the right-hander missed a few inches high at 97 mph. Judge, taking full advantage of his second life, went the other way with the pitch, driving it over the right-field wall for a two-run homer in the Yankees’ 7-3 win.

What initially looked like a punchout became a Yankee milestone, as Judge picked up the 261st home run of his career. That gives him one more than another pinstriped captain, Derek Jeter.

Judge has not had the best season up to this point. While Wednesday’s homer was his fourth of the year, the 2022 MVP entered the game with a .180/.315/.348 slash line and a below-average 95 OPS+.

However, Judge made some solid contact and doubled in Tuesday’s win, which prompted Yankees manager Aaron Boone to reiterate his confidence in the slugger.

“Even when he has a bad series or whatever where he’s not swinging great, Aaron Judge is always close,” Boone said. “Physically, I think he’s in a good spot. It’s just a matter of really getting that next level of timing down. When he does that, he’ll take off.”

The Yankees tacked on another run in the fourth when Anthony Volpe, also in a funk, lined a triple toward fellow New Jerseyan Lawrence Butler. The ball dove at the right fielder’s ankles and bounced to the wall as Butler fell on the play, which drove Austin Wells home. Juan Soto then plated Volpe with a sac fly.

The Yankees weren’t done there, though, as Anthony Rizzo, another early-season struggler, went deep in the fifth. The solo shot marked the first baseman’s second homer in as many days.

Soto then added a solo homer in the sixth, getting a run back for the Yankees after Brent Rooker knocked Clarke Schmidt out of the game with a three-run jack in the top of the inning.

Schmidt had cruised up until that point, not allowing a run. In the end, he totaled three earned, four hits, two walks, six strikeouts and 92 pitches over 5 1/3 innings in his fifth start of the season.

The Yankees added an additional insurance run in the seventh when Alex Verdugo lined a sac fly.

With a win in the books, the Yankees will look to take the series from the A’s in Thursday’s finale. Nestor Cortes will start for the Yankees, while Oakland’s Alex Wood will look to lower his 7.89 ERA after getting tossed from Wednesday’s game.