NEW YORK -- One way or another, Aaron Judge was going to open the 2023 season at Yankee Stadium. Either he would re-sign with the New York Yankees and return a hero or sign with his hometown-ish San Francisco Giants and return as a potential villain. Judge remained with the Yankees, of course, and he led his club to a 5-0 season-opening win against the Giants on Thursday.
"That's pretty good," Yankees manager Aaron Boone said about the Opening Day win. "When your ace goes out there and punches 11 in six innings and the bullpen -- everyone kind of had a hand in it, we were able to add on a couple insurance runs with good quality at-bats late ... Just crisp, which you like to see on Opening Day."
This was the first time the Yankees and Giants ever met on Opening Day, despite a rivalry that dates back to the Polo Grounds days. The Yankees and Giants have met seven times in the World Series, the second most ever. Fandom still gets passed down through the generations and there were a lot of New York-based Giants fans at Yankee Stadium on Thursday.
Here's what you need to know about the Yankees' Opening Day win over the Giants.
No. 1 for No. 99
It's only fitting the first home run of the 2023 season was hit by the reigning AL MVP and the American League's single-season home run king. Judge sent the second pitch of his first at-bat -- a Logan Webb sinker up in the zone -- into Monument Park for his first home run of the new season and a 1-0 Yankees lead.
"I was just trying to make solid contact," Judge said after the game. "Especially with a guy like Logan, got that nasty sinker-changeup mix. Lot of balls on the ground, lot of weak contact. Just trying to elevate a pitch and get it in the air best I could. I didn't expect that to happen. Try to swing at strikes."
Judge broke Roger Maris' 61-year-old AL home run record last year and Maris too went deep on Opening Day the year after his record-setting season. He finished with 33 home runs in 1962 after hitting 61 in 1961. Thursday's blast is Judge's first career Opening Day homer. He hit his first homer in his sixth game last season, and went deep just once in his first 13 games.
Webb, it should be noted, allowed just one home run in his final 10 starts last season. He is one of the game's great ground ball pitchers and home run avoiders. Case in point: Webb threw 1,826 sinkers the last two years and gave up only six homers on the pitch. It's not often someone goes yard against Webb's sinker. Then again, Judge isn't most hitters.
Gleyber Torres took Webb deep in the fourth inning, a two-run shot into Yankee Stadium's short right field porch for a 3-0 New York lead. Webb allowed two homers in his final 68 innings in 2022, then he allowed two homers in his first four innings of 2023. This sport, it's a weird one.
Cole and Webb set Opening Day strikeout records
With two great pitchers on the mound, strikeouts were prevalent at Yankee Stadium on Opening Day. Webb and Gerrit Cole both set a new franchise record for strikeouts on Opening Day. Webb punched out 12 batters in six innings, while Cole fanned 11 in six shutout innings. There were 32 strikeouts in the game overall (16 by Giants pitchers and 16 by Yankees pitchers).
Here are the highest Opening Day strikeout totals in the history of the two franchises:
1. Logan Webb vs. Yankees in 2023: 12
1. Gerrit Cole vs. Giants in 2023: 11
2. Madison Bumgarner vs. Diamondbacks in 2017: 11
2. Tim Leary vs. Tigers in 1991: 9
3. Red Ames vs. Dodgers in 1909: 10
3. Gerrit Cole vs. Blue Jays in 2021: 8
3. Juan Marichal vs. Braves in 1962: 10
4. Roger Clemens vs. Athletics in 1999: 8
Several tied with 9
Several others tied with 8
"It was nice to get a lead right out of the chute with Aaron," Cole said. "To be able to attack the middle of the strike zone, and then we continued to tack on from there and I just tried to be as efficient as I could."
Cole led baseball with 257 strikeouts last season and is one of the game's preeminent strikeout pitchers. Webb is a ground ball guy more than a strikeout guy. Thursday was his fourth career double-digit strikeout game and the 12 strikeouts are a new career high. Webb is already one of the best pitchers in the sport. He can be even better if he adds strikeouts to all those grounders.
Thursday's game is the third Opening Day ever with two double-digit strikeout pitchers. Max Scherzer (12) and Jacob deGrom (10) did it in 2019, and Dave McNally (13) and Sam McDowell (11) did it in 1970. Scherzer and deGrom pitched for the Nationals and Mets, respectively. McNally vs. McDowell was an Orioles vs. Cleveland game.
The all-time record is 15 strikeouts on Opening Day by Camilo Pascual of the Senators. He struck out 15 Red Sox on the first day of the 1960 season.
Volpe debuts in the Bronx
Only Judge received a louder ovation during pregame introductions than Anthony Volpe. Volpe, the Yankees' No. 1 prospect and their new starting shortstop, became the youngest Yankee to start Opening Day since Derek Jeter in 1996. Living up to expectations, he came prepared with a quality Roll Call response, kissing the NY on his jersey when the Bleacher Creatures chanted his name.
Anthony Volpe kisses the Yankees logo during his first roll call 💙 #YANKSonYES pic.twitter.com/aJAdr12hM6— YES Network (@YESNetwork) March 30, 2023
The kid knows how make the people happy. We can say that for sure.
"It was probably the most fun day of my entire life," Volpe said. "The pregame festivities, I probably had goosebumps the whole day. Just to be out there and feel like I got welcomed by the fans the way I did, and then be able to go out and just play. That was the best part."
On the field, Volpe's MLB debut was fairly uneventful. He worked a seven-pitch walk against an excellent pitcher (Webb) in his first at-bat, then stole second base. He also made a nice play at short coming on a weakly hit grounder later in the game.
Volpe struck out with runners on the corners and one out in the seventh inning and went 0 for 2 with the walk in his debut. Friday is an off-day, so the 21-year-old New Jersey native will try again to record his first big-league hit Saturday afternoon.
"I thought really well," Boone said of Volpe's first game. "First AB gets the big walk, steals a base, handled the routine plays in the field, turned the double play, had the right at-bats."
Conforto played his first game since 2021
After missing out on Judge this past offseason, the Giants pivoted to another New York outfielder, and gave former Mets stalwart Michael Conforto a two-year deal worth $36 million with an opt out. Conforto did not play last year after suffering a shoulder injury last January and eventually having surgery.
Opening Day was Conforto's first MLB game since Game 162 in 2019. He went 1 for 4 and served a single to left field for his first big-league hit in 18 months. That single had to have felt good. It's been a long road back for Conforto, who turned only 30 earlier this month and authored a .259/.364/.473 line from 2017-21. It might take a while to shake off the rust, but Conforto has been a very good hitter throughout his career. Nifty signing by San Francisco.
Yankees still a work in progress
Because of all their spring training injuries -- they placed nine players on the MLB injured list Thursday -- the Yankees opened the season with 14 position players and 12 pitchers on the active roster rather than the usual 13/13 split. That will not last. Manager Aaron Boone strongly implied the club had a deal lined up to add a pitcher Thursday morning.
"We're going with just seven guys in the pen obviously with an off-day tomorrow," Boone said prior to the Opening Day win. "We have a potential deal going that'll probably change that moving forward in the next day or two, a pitcher could be in play for us, that we add or not. Whether or not we do, we'd be in a position to pull from the minor leagues, too."
The move seemingly came down following Thursday's win when the Yankees added spin rate righty Colten Brewer, who used an opt out clause in his contract with the AL East rival Tampa Bay Rays to sign with New York.
The New York Yankees today announced they have acquired RHP Colten Brewer from the Tampa Bay Rays in exchange for cash considerations.— New York Yankees (@Yankees) March 30, 2023
Welcome to Pinstripes 🙌 pic.twitter.com/moHaU3UoQi
The Yankees will need to clear a roster spot for Brewer and erstwhile top prospect Estevan Florial could be the casualty. Florial is out of minor league options, meaning he must pass through waivers to go to Triple-A. The Yankees brought in Franchy Cordero as an extra outfielder earlier this week, so Florial is currently a player without a role.
Brewer, 30, spent last season in Triple-A with the Kansas City Royals. He struck out 42 batters in 39 2/3 relief innings, but had a 4.76 ERA and surrendered seven homers in those 39 2/3 innings. Brewer has a 5.04 ERA in 91 career big league innings.
Friday is an off-day, then the Yankees and Giants continue their season-opening three game series Saturday afternoon. There is some rain in the forecast that day, though there appears a large enough window to play nine innings uninterrupted. Righties Clarke Schmidt (5-5, 3.12 ERA in 2022) and Alex Cobb (7-8, 3.73 ERA in 2022) are the scheduled starting pitchers.