NEW YORK — In his first spring training interview, Aaron Judge didn’t rule out hitting 60 homers again: “You never know,” the Yankees captain said on Feb. 20. Two pitches into his first at-bat in 2023, it was one down and 59 to go.
Who knows? Maybe Judge will blow past 62, the new American League record.
And maybe Gerrit Cole will beat his Yankees single-season strikeout record of 257, which just happened to be established in the same game that Judge passed Roger Maris in Arlington, Texas, last October.
Both are on their way.
“Gerrit went out there and did his thing,” Judge said on YES Network after the game. “It starts with him on the mound. He’s our ace. he’s our bulldog, the guy leading the rotation, leading this team. He had 11 punch-outs in six innings. That’s impressive. That jump-started us.
“He really pounded the zone. He got strike one. The first batter, he walked. But after that, he really locked it in and attacked the zone. When you have the kind of stuff he had, and you’re attacking the strike zone, it’s tough as a hitter. I’ve been there.”
Judge hit a first-inning homer, Cole set a franchise Opening Day record by punching out 11 over six shutout innings, and the Yankees started the season with an impressive 5-0 win over the San Francisco Giants on a cold and windy day at jam-packed Yankee Stadium.
“Just trying to pick up my teammates, there are always jitters and excitement on Opening Day,” Judge said. “I just wanted to get on base for the guys behind me but I was able to sneak one out there.”
Yanks No. 1 prospect Anthony Volpe’s debut was the big story leading in — fans cleverly dubbed it Volpening Day on social media — but the big-money players took over this game while the Jersey product went 0-for-2 with a walk, stolen base and strikeout.
“Impressive,” Judge said. “The first at-bat, he walks. Some great plays on defense. He’s ready to go. I’m excited to see what the future holds for him.”
Throwing a bunch of fastballs that registered in the high 90s, Cole set the tone. After LaMonte Wade led off the game with a walk, Cole struck out the next three hitters — ex-Mets outfielder Michael Conforto and former Mets infielder Wilmer Flores looking, then Joc Pederson swinging.
From there, Judge gave Cole an early lead.
Giants starter Logan Webb struck out leadoff hitter DJ LeMahieu, but Judge followed by driving an 0-1 fastball that was low and on the outside corner over the center-field wall for a 422-foot homer.
The next inning, Cole struck out the side again with a one-out single mixed in. When the righty fanned two more in the third and fourth inning, he already was at 10, which passed Tim Leary’s nine in 1991 for a Yankees Opening Day record. Cole added one more before departing after 98 pitches and a 3-0 lead when lefty Wandy Peralta started the seventh.
The Yankees padded their lead in the fourth inning when Josh Donaldson singled with one down and Gleyber Torres followed with an opposite-field homer to right to make it 3-0.
The Yankees added two more in the seventh. After Volpe struck out with runners on the corners, LeMahieu and Judge singled in runs.