There were no rowdy fans or roll calls. The Judge’s chambers in the right-field seats was empty Friday night, but Aaron Judge and Brett Gardner made sure there was an explosion to celebrate the 2020 Yankee season beginning in the Bronx.
The Yankee slugger and their longest tenured player hit a pair of two-run homers Friday night to give the Bombers a 5-1 home-opener win over the Red Sox at the Stadium.
In 2020, with the country fighting the coronavirus pandemic, there was little pomp and circumstance to welcome the season in the Bronx. There was a scaled-down player introduction, no bunting or on-field recognition of Opening Week. There were no fans in the ballpark because public health officials say it is too dangerous to have gatherings of more than 10 people. So the seats down near the field were covered with navy blue tarps.
“It was kind of funny to sit on the bench talking with DJ [LeMahieu] and just saying, how rockin’ this place would have been; home opener, Red Sox-Yankees in the Bronx,” Judge said. “We knew this place would have been packed. So it was a little different. We’re upset about that, but you don’t change. The game still goes on, life goes on. So we just prepared the same way we did. Went out and got a W.”
There still was a beautiful national anthem by Yankees broadcaster and former Broadway actress Suzyn Waldman and a fitting tribute to frontline medical workers who are fighting the virus in New York City, including the Yankees’ own internist Dr. Paul Lee. Players banged on garbage can lids, mimicking the spontaneous celebration New Yorkers had every night at 7 p.m. at the height of the crisis to honor medical workers changing shifts.
Back then, even a night like Friday was hard to imagine.
“I think honestly, baseball was a little bit far from my thoughts at that time and the sort of the peak of the pandemic here in New York,” Lee, who helped the Yankees devise their team protocols to try and avoid the disease, said. “I think we’re really lucky to be here to be able to restart the season. So I think it’s a necessary sort of relief for everybody to have a distraction for all the things that the city had to go through.”
Judge and Gardner provided the real entertainment Friday night.
Jordan Montgomery pitched 5.2 solid innings. He gave up one run, a homer to Michael Chavis, allowed five hits, walked one and struck out four.
Judge’s third-inning, two-run homer answered Chavis’ home run in the top of that inning, giving Montgomery and the Yankees the lead. It was the fifth time in his career that he has hit home runs in three straight games in the regular season. He also has one playoff stretch of three homers in three straight games. He has never gone four in a row.
That knocked out the rebuilding Red Sox, whose pitching is stretched incredibly thin with Chris Sale out after Tommy John surgery and Eduardo Rodriguez still recovering from a heart-related side effect of having COVID-19.
Gio Urshela added the insurance run with his first homer of the season in the fourth.
Gardner, who opened the season 0-for-13, snapped his hitless streak with a monster shot to the second deck in the empty right-field stands.
It was not a perfect night, but it was good.
But after four months, 4.5 million confirmed cases in the U.S. and over 153,000 American deaths, baseball was trying to return in the middle of a still uncontrolled crisis. The Yankees have been directly affected, not only having three players test positive and return from the IL, but also having had the strangest MLB road trip in modern history. After having spent two days idling in a hotel in Philadelphia, four games postponed and taking a spontaneous trip to Baltimore for two hastily-arranged games against the Orioles all because the virus spread through 18 Marlins over the weekend, exposing the Phillies, the Yankees were opening their season in the Bronx Friday night.
“I don’t think any one of us could have predicted how this pandemic is ultimately gonna unfold, or how it has unfolded to this point,” Aaron Boone said. “Where we work, was ground zero here, where now our area has been one of the better places now obviously for a while, so. Yeah, it’s just, obviously a day by day thing that we’re living with and doing the best we can to navigate.”
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