Aaron Hicks? Yes, Aaron Hicks.
The often ridiculed and sometimes completely unnoticed outfielder was the Yankee’s hero on Thursday night. His three runs, no doubt, a home run in the bottom of the ninth tied the situation. Five batters later, Aaron Judge’s throw to left field gave the Yankees an incredible 7-6 victory just hours before Judge was scheduled for an arbitration hearing that would decide his salary.
Hicks was hitting just .288 going into the game, ranking eighth among all players with at least 200 plate appearances. For his later game with closer Astros player Ryan Pressley, it didn’t matter. The only thing that mattered was the meeting of the ball with the bat, and Hicks did it with the power of catharsis.
Amid cries of being overrated, overpaid, and over the top, Hicks’ immediate takeoff from a home run signaled one thing: it was all over.
“Dude, this is amazing,” Hicks said afterward. “When you touch the ball and you don’t even feel it, you just know that you washed it well, especially in this situation. To have two guys in front of me who went to the base instead of me, and to go to a big level and equalize immediately was a huge achievement.
José Trevino later followed Hicks with a midfield single on his bat’s seventh inning. DJ LeMahieu saved the inning for Judge by removing a few pitches below his knees and earning a two-out walk. These were the kind of bats the Yankees had been missing for the previous eight innings, having failed to understand either Framber Valdez or any of Houston’s first two pitchers. Valdez came up to his sinker again and again in big situations. At the end of his day, 62 of Valdez’s 101 innings were sinkers. The Yankees remained indifferent to the referee quite often, as 17 of those sinkers landed for claimed hits. A total of 32% of his weights resulted in a strike or blow. The average pitcher in 2022 hits or blows 27.5% of the time.
It took Pressly and his replacement, Rain Stanek, only about 20 minutes to ruin everything. It’s not like they needed it, given that pretty much everything went their way this season, but the Yankees’ ninth inning was a powerful boost to their spirit. Their comeback has shown a determination that will make them one of the toughest teams in September, October and for every poor soul that runs into them right now.
“There is confidence that if the game is in balance or within reason, they will find a way to win,” Aaron Boon said of his potentially historic team. “There are only a few great at-bat wins in the ninth. What a huge blow from Aaron, both Aarons.”
It’s not just that the Yankees win games. The thing is, they win games when their opponent scores 95%. It’s still an 5, but the Yankees are at the 5 level. As Judge came to the plate with two outs and two runners, a base hit seemed imminent. After a missed eighth inning play, the crowd was fully back into the game thanks to Hicks’ homer and LeMahier’s staccato walk. They went fully nuclear when Judge’s ball hit the grass in left field and caused the bombers to run out of the dugout to surround him. This is how a clean, supposedly positive game for the Astros became a loss.
“We don’t like to lose,” Hicks said.
Houston scored them in series, but could only do it early on. They started with three in the first and then added three more in the third. The heart of their order – which actually runs from the first to the sixth – remains downright terrifying. Jordan Alvarez, built like a statue in boots, continued his budding MVP business. Although the judge still hasn’t received the award, Alvarez performed at his first solo concert at Yankee Stadium that year. Playing to a national TV audience on the MLB network, the Astros left-handed laser show went 2 of 5 with three RBIs thanks to a heat-seeking missile hitting right field.
Alex Bregman matched it with his own three-run shot, which was immediately thrown back onto the field by a fan. Both sluggers took their toll on Jameson Tylon, who undeniably had the worst start of a brilliant season. Tylon’s final line featured ten hits, six earned runs, and nine bats that the Astros hit at 100 mph or faster.
Alvarez and Bregman’s punches to the cheap seats weren’t enough to get the Astros W, even though the Yankee’s offensive performance for the first eight frames was extremely limited. Giancarlo Stanton, as he usually does, turned a lazy volley into an opposing homer in the first. With a 34-degree launch angle, Stanton’s ball stayed in the air long enough to send the entire stadium through the familiar thought process of watching a one-of-a-kind striker. “It doesn’t come out, does it? It looks like it barely wobbled. Wow, it’s in the second deck.
But then came the ninth inning. Pressley and Stanek melted away, but the Yankees held on. If it looks like they’ll never lose again, it’s because of the games, the players (the referee, when asked about his upcoming hearing: “We’ll talk after”), and things like that. As Frank Sinatra hums the team’s signature song, they want to be a part of it.