Aaron Judge's All-Star night shows he still has 'Face of the Game' potential

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Aaron Judge running bases at All-Star Game
Aaron Judge running bases at All-Star Game

So Aaron Judge went 0-for-2 with a walk and a run scored Tuesday night in the American League’s 5-2 victory in the MLB All-Star Game. That might not sound like much or look like a big deal in a box score, but it was a nifty night for the Yankees’ best player, who showed off his defensive prowess -- he really is a tremendous outfielder -- and his patience.

And, in a pre-game ceremony, we also got a reminder of his status in the game, even as younger, dynamic stars such as Vladimir Guerrero, Jr., Fernando Tatis, Jr. and Shohei Ohtani dominated much of the talk around this Midsummer Classic.

Judge was one of two players to escort Hank Aaron’s widow, Billye, onto the field as Aaron, a 25-time All-Star, was honored, including with a tribute video. Billye Aaron held onto the arms of Judge and Freddie Freeman, the popular star for Aaron’s Braves, as she headed near home plate, where she was presented with a painting and a jersey signed by all the All-Stars as part of the emotional ceremony. Aaron, a Hall-of-Famer who was one of greatest players in baseball history, died in January at age 86.

Judge, 29, may not be the hottest name in the game right now, especially in these Shohei-heavy times. But Judge’s immense talent, personality and, let’s face it, size, mean he’s always lurking in the “Who’s the Face of the Game” conversation.

He wears it well. He was terrific in a delightful “road trip” promo for the All-Star Game shown during the Fox broadcast -- Judge and Yankees teammate Gerrit Cole, who didn’t pitch in the game, did Mad Libs as they “drove” to Denver. He also showed up in the ad for the Yankees’ game at the Field of Dreams in Iowa next month.

He elicited some fun commentary from Freeman at first base, too. With Judge batting, Freeman, who was mic'd up for Fox, noted he was “glad I’m not playing third base” with Judge and his considerable power looming in the batter’s box. At the prospect of Judge reaching first, Freeman remarked, “Aw, geez. He’s going to make me look so short.”

Judge perhaps even added a little sizzle to his persona recently. He can be bland in interviews and doesn’t normally dip into controversy. But he apparently trolled Houston’s José Altuve on the final weekend of the first half, grabbing at his shirt during a home run trot in a reference to the Astros’ sign-stealing. That pumped some spice into an already-percolating Yanks-Astros rivalry, especially when Altuve hit a walk-off homer in the third game of the series.

Judge, who started in right field and batted cleanup in the Midsummer Classic, was the only Yankee to appear in the game. One other New York player got in the game: Mets pitcher Taijuan Walker, who allowed one run in an inning of work.

On the field, Judge’s bona fides are never in doubt, if he’s healthy. When he plays, he’s sublime. Take Tuesday night.

Jul 13, 2021; Denver, Colorado, USA; American League right fielder Aaron Judge of the New York Yankees (99) smiles and points as he runs back to the dugout after the second inning against the National League during the 2021 MLB All Star Game at Coors Field.
Jul 13, 2021; Denver, Colorado, USA; American League right fielder Aaron Judge of the New York Yankees (99) smiles and points as he runs back to the dugout after the second inning against the National League during the 2021 MLB All Star Game at Coors Field.

In his first at-bat, he walked on four pitches against Corbin Burnes of the Milwaukee Brewers, a pitcher who started the season by fanning 58 batters before issuing a single walk.

Then, in a sequence that might be unrecognizable to Yankee fans this year, he went to third on Rafael Devers’ double and scored the game’s first run on an infield hit by Marcus Semien, making a terrific read on a bouncer to third and bolting for the plate.

This is a good spot to insert your own joke about the Yanks’ ineffectiveness with runners in scoring position -- they’re batting .225 in such situations, 28th in MLB.

But back to Judge. In the third inning, he raced back to the wall in right field to make a fine running catch on the warning track on a drive by Bryan Reynolds. More proof of his glove talent.

We don’t want to get too crazy -- well, maybe a little -- but let's extrapolate off Judge’s night on the national stage: Could it help jolt the 46-43 Yankees, who have been meh-ing their way through the schedule, awash in disappointment? Something’s got to.

Maybe that’s too bonkers. After all, Judge’s performance certainly wasn’t as loud as what Guerrero did. The Toronto Blue Jays star smashed a 468-foot home run that soared off his bat at 110.2 miles per hour. If anything out of the game was an omen, or something to find inspiration in, it was that. Guerrero later drove in another run with a ground out and was named the game’s MVP.

But at least Judge’s efforts were part of winning baseball. The Yanks could use a dose of that.

Maybe their best player can help provide it in a pivotal second half. It would only add to his already-big name.