BALTIMORE — The Orioles built one thing of note since the heyday of Steady Eddie and Everyday Cal, which is a very long time indeed. And that is Camden Yards, so beautiful and perfect it doesn’t belong in Baltimore.
Unfortunately, the team had the temerity to tinker with perfection. Though it’s very unlikely the motivation was solely to stop Aaron Judge (the O’s say no to that), the home team probably hoped that would at least be a side benefit.
So inviting to right-handed hitters for three decades, the left field fence was pushed back practically to Pratt Street. It takes quite a “poke” now, as Judge put it.
No matter, Judge shrugged, and went the other way.
After he destroyed a ball that would have been out of Yellowstone in the Yankees’ win Tuesday night (which brought the team’s win percentage to a neat .750) and had to settle for a double, he went to right and center in subsequent at- bats, hitting two homers in a park that’s yielding 1.39 homers a game. That is down from 3.42 homers a game a year ago, before they moved the left field fence back by 26 ½ feet, and raised it from 7 feet to about 13.
One Yankee said the new layout is like an experiment gone wrong.
“I feel like it ruins the park,” Judge said before having a rare 0-for-4 night in the Yankees’ 3-2 win over the Orioles on Wednesday. “It was quite a beautiful park the way it was.”
Beautiful for hitters, it was, Orioles people say.
Orioles higher-ups spent the past three decades hearing it from their disgruntled, maligned, ERA-wrecked pitchers, and if they ever get around to spending any money again, they want to be able to sell the park to some new ones.
“The stadium is a total gem,” Orioles general manager Mike Elias said. “We wanted to make it less of a homer haven.”
The redone dimensions worked against Judge on Tuesday — for one at-bat anyway.
Judge eventually continued his salary drive, which may yet take him to Mike Trout Boulevard. Trout is an all-time great, and Judge is matching him so far — Judge leads the majors with 14 homers and is basically even with Trout in extra-base hits (21 apiece), slugging (.692 to .684), OPS ( 1.076 to 1.123) and offensive WAR (2.3 to 2.5). If the MVP vote were held today, Trout would likely fail to win his fourth trophy. Yes, it says here he or surprise teammate Taylor Ward would be second to the fellow who would be Trout.
Of greater interest to Yankees fans, and charter members of Judge’s Chambers, he is taking the Yankees on a ride they haven’t seen since that magical year of 1998. Thanks to Judge (and others), the Yankees’ start matches that of the ’98 team, the modern standard for baseball perfection.
It’s not like Judge had it easy. This Baltimore bait-and-switch trick is child’s play compared to what MLB has done — no complaint here since the deadening of the balls finally has separated bona fide MLB mega-stars from the merely great. Only true power hitters are threats to hit it out now, which is how it should have been all along.
And MLB was just starting there. Their smart guys introduced the humidor to all 30 teams, ostensibly to ensure consistency in MLB parks. We all know, however, that it also likely curtails homers, as it was originally the brainchild of the Colorado Rockies back when Blake Street was under siege by their own bombers.
No matter. Nothing is stopping Judge as he aims to bring the Yankees their first title since forever (2009 for those scoring at home), and possibly also to prove a point.
Teammates say he’s the same guy he always was. A platform year with $100 million or more on the line can derail many. But not Judge, who by all accounts is the same guy, relaxed as always.
“It shouldn’t affect me, man,” Judge said with a smile. “I’ve got business to do on the field. The rest will take care of itself.”
When Judge requested a Trout-like deal this spring — that $36 million salary for eight or nine more years on top of this one, putting him close to $100 million more than what the Yankees were offering — the reaction from the storied and staid organization was predictable: We love you. But you’re not Mike Trout.
And as they spoke, that certainly appeared to be the case. Trout has three MVPs, Judge none (though many maintain, with some justification, that he should have won it in 2017, without trash cans).
Whatever, Judge’s case is getting better by the day, as he racks up long hits, blows up Baltimore and leads the Yankees to a start that is lapping the field. The Yankees, who made that $213.5 million extension offer nearly everyone but Judge deemed reasonable only a couple of months back, are in a rough negotiating spot now.
They got so much right, the Yankees can afford to get one wrong. And it appears they did. Their bid was for a reasonable $30.5 million annually, and we know they might have gone higher had Judge not called a halt to talks Opening Day to concentrate on what really matters.
The thing is, Judge has out-kicked his coverage by a long shot. He has surmounted every hurdle, even if he hasn’t quite cleared that Camden left-field fence yet. There is no containing this fellow, as the overmatched O’s found out.