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Judge launches 2023’s first homer in opening AB

NEW YORK — Yankees fans did not have to wait long for reigning American League MVP Aaron Judge‘s first home run of the 2023 season.

In the first inning on Opening Day, Judge saw a 93 mph sinker from San Francisco Giants ace Logan Webb and deposited it 422 feet over the Yankee Stadium center-field wall for his first home run of the year, his first one as Yankees captain and the first one leaguewide in 2023.

He later added a single as the Yankees rolled to a 5-0 victory.

Before taking the field Thursday, Judge had joked about Major League Baseball scheduling a Giants-Yankees Opening Day matchup for the first time ever, putting him up against the team that he rooted for growing up in Northern California and also pursued him in free agency as much as the Yankees did.

“I don’t know who at MLB did that to me,” Judge said with a smile, “but it’s great. Logan Webb’s a great pitcher, he’s had a couple great years, and looking forward to many more out of him. But it’s going to be a fun afternoon, that’s for sure, getting a chance to play the team I watched a lot as a kid.”

Judge had considered joining the Giants in the offseason before signing a nine-year, $360 million deal to remain with the Yankees.

“It was kind of a dream come true getting a chance to speak with them and get an opportunity to go there,” Judge said of the Giants. “But in the end, it just worked out for me to come back to the Yankees, and I’m happy with my decision.”

Yankees manager Aaron Boone said before the game that the “low point” of his winter was when he thought that Judge would sign with San Francisco.

“One of my lowest, darkest places this winter was when I thought maybe it was in jeopardy that he was coming back,” Boone said. “For whatever period of time, that was one of the darkest places I went, was picturing him on that third-base line in a Giants uniform on Opening Day. That’s something that was not a good thought or picture.”

In 2022, Judge was voted AL MVP after threatening for the Triple Crown, finishing first in home runs (62) and RBIs (131) and second in batting average (.311), recording an inordinate 1.111 OPS and breaking Roger Maris’ 61-year-old AL home run mark.

Before the game, Judge made sure to shift the focus on any expectations of another 60-homer season. According to ESPN Stats & Information, the last player with even back-to-back 45-homer seasons was Ryan Howard, who surpassed that total in four straight years from 2006 to 2009.

“I know very few followed up with 60. A couple I know hit 50 after that. But we’ll see what happens,” Judge said. “Maybe we can make a new list. We’ll see.”

Pitcher Gerrit Cole also had a banner 2023 debut on his fourth Opening Day start in pinstripes, striking out 11 Giants through six innings to set a franchise record previously held by Tim Leary (9 strikeouts, 1991). Webb also set a Giants Opening Day record when he recorded his 12th strikeout in the sixth inning.

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