Aaron Judge breaks out in Game 3 vs. Astros not a moment too soon for the Yankees

NEW YORK -- After having their offense stifled by Dallas Keuchel and Justin Verlander in Games 1 and 2 of the ALCS, the Yankees broke out in a big way in their Game 3 win on Monday night (NYY 8, HOU 1). The Astros still own a 2-1 lead in the series.

The Yankees struck for three runs early on Todd Frazier's opposite field three-run home run, the kind of home run that really had no business being a home run. Frazier more or less reached out and poked the ball into the right field short porch against Charlie Morton for a second inning 3-0 lead. After scoring two runs total in Games 1-2, the Yankees scored three in one inning in Game 3.

Frazier's home run got the Yankees on the board. It was Aaron Judge who then carried the club on his very broad shoulders the rest of the way. In the fourth inning, Judge interrupted Verlander's mid-inning interview with a leaping catch to rob Yuli Gurriel of extra bases.

"That's what we want. That's what every teammates wants to see," said Frazier of Judge's catch following Game 3. "He's been doing it all year, even before I played with the Yankees. I've watched the stuff he's done. He'll go to the wall for you. That's all you can ask for as a teammate, as a player, as a friend."

Judge hasn't hit much in the ALCS -- or in the entire postseason in general aside from the Wild Card Game -- though there are multiple ways to impact the game, and on that catch Judge showed off his underrated defensive prowess. He was fifth among all MLB right fielders with plus-9 Defensive Runs Saved during the regular season, so it wasn't an out-of-nowhere play.

The Yankees need more from Judge than great defense, however. He is their best player and their biggest offensive threat, and while they survived the ALDS without him doing much at the plate, it seems damn near impossible to do the same against the Astros in ALCS. The Yankees need Judge to contribute on offense and Judge knows it. So does manager Joe Girardi.

"I think there are some pitches that were called on him during the series that haven't necessarily been strikes. There's a big difference between 1-1 and 2-0, 2-1. There's a big difference in the way it changes an at-bat," said Girardi prior to Game 3. "Hopefully he'll start getting some that go his way, and they start making some mistakes up."

That mistake up came in the fifth inning. Will Harris tried to bust Judge up-and-in with a 93 mph heater, a pitch the Indians beat with him most of the ALDS, and Judge was able to pull his hands in and yank the ball out to left field for a three-run home run. How a 6-foot-7 hitter can get his hands in far enough to pull this pitch and keep it fair, I'll never know.

"With (Harris), he's got a good cutter and curveball. I was trying to see a cutter up in the zone," Judge said about the home run. "Just try to get a pitch up and do some damage."

Prior to that home run, Judge was 1 for 8 with two walks and four strikeouts in the ALCS, with one of the walks coming early in Game 3. There were signs he's starting to snap out of his slump, but only signs. The Yankees had been waiting for the big hit to come, and in the fourth inning, that big hit finally came. It turned a not quite comfortable 5-0 lead into an everyone can breathe 8-0 lead.

In the next half-inning, Judge put on a defensive clinic in right field, first running in to rob Cameron Maybin of a bloop single ...

... then running in to catch a pop-up along the right field foul line. The MVP chants at Yankee Stadium were loud because that was an MVP inning. The big three-run home run gave the Yankees plenty of breathing room and the two catches in right field snuffed out a potential rally by the Astros. And then there's the catch on Gurriel earlier in the game.

"I knew that he had a beat on it. I knew he was going hard after it. If he could get to it, he'll reel it in. That was a big play," said Brett Gardner of Judge's catch. "He made another great play coming in and diving. He's an athlete out there. I know he's a big guy, but he covers a lot of ground and makes a lot of plays. He makes a difference on both sides of the ball."

One game does not a postseason make, but for the Yankees, who desperately need to get Judge back on track, Game 3 was a welcome sight. Judge stole multiple hits in right field and finally hammered a mistake pitch up in the zone -- I'd argue it wasn't even a mistake pitch, Judge had been swinging through those high fastballs since the ALDS -- to make his presence felt at the plate.

For the Yankees to have any shot at coming back in the ALCS, they need their best player to be their best player. In Game 3, Judge once again started to look like the MVP candidate he was during the regular season. That should excite the Yankees and worry an Astros team that hasn't done a whole lot at the plate themselves in the ALCS.

"Judge did what Judge has done 50-plus times, which is hit the ball out of the ballpark when he gets a pitch to hit," said Astros manager A.J. Hinch. "Big moment won by Judge. It was his night. He played defense tonight. He did a lot of things well for them. And really was a big difference in the game."

CBS Sports Writer

Mike Axisa joined CBS Sports in 2013. He has been a member of the BBWAA since 2015 and has previously written about both fantasy baseball and real life baseball for MLBTradeRumors.com, FanGraphs.com, RotoAuthority.com,... Full Bio

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