Aaron Judge does not envy what Gio Urshela had to do to be the Yankees’ hero on Friday night.
Judge, who has already been in a pinch hitter role himself this season, knows the challenges of watching a game unfold from the bench before having your name called in the most pivotal moment of the game. But Urshela didn’t seem to struggle with the task, blasting a go-ahead three-run home run to give the Yanks a 5-4 win against the Orioles.
“It’s terrible,” Judge said about pinch hitting. “I hate it. It’s a tough spot to be in. you have to get hot while the game’s going on, try to check into the game, ‘OK, maybe I’ll hit here or hit here.’ You can’t really replicate a live arm or a live situation.”
Urshela, not in the starting lineup due to a sore knee, didn’t have a live scenario to replicate before he stepped in to face Travis Lakins, but he knew he might be needed in a big spot, and made sure if that time came, he would be prepared.
“I was in the weight room trying to get ready, trying to watch videos of the righties in the bullpen and focus on what could happen and just prepare myself for anything,” Urshela said. “You have to be ready all the time from pitch one. I was warming up a few innings before that and trying to keep my body warm and be ready for any opportunity.”
It was the second pinch-hit home run of Urshela’s career, no easy task after being dormant for the first seven innings of a ballgame. The amount of prep that goes into one hypothetical plate appearance that may never arrive can quickly turn into the tension of a game-deciding swing, which is no easy task, even in the eyes of a player like Judge who can send a ball out of the park at any moment.
“You’re kind of hitting off a tee or a machine if you can, and to jump in there like that, it’s tough to do,” Judge said. “But Gio made it look easy. He was up there swinging and battling, especially on a tough reliever like that, and he got the job done for us.”
Urshela slowly knocked the rust off with each swing, working the count to 2-2 before fouling off four straight pitches until he finally found the one he wanted, a cutter on the outer half of the plate that he sent over the right center field wall to turn a potential second straight loss into one of the most dramatic victories of the season.
A pinch hitter’s at-bat could go either way after spending hours preparing for a moment that may never arrive, but for manager Aaron Boone, Friday night’s outcome wasn’t a surprise given the number he was calling on to decide the game.
“Off the bench or not, it was just one of those really good at-bats…to foul off the number of pitches and really just absolutely get into one, it was just a big time at-bat from a really good player,” Boone said. “I’m just glad I had that weapon sitting over there, honestly.”
Follow Ryan Chichester on Twitter: @ryanchichester1