Payday: Judge wins it for the Yankees on the eve of salary showdown

NEW YORK — Aaron Judge hit a game-winning single on the eve of their salary arbitration matchup, capping a four-run ninth inning that included Aaron Hicks’ three-run homer to tie closer Ryan Pressly in the Yankees’ victory. New York 7-6 over the Houston Astros on Thursday night.

Batting with two off Ryne Stanek, Judge sent a 3-0 splitter into the left-field corner to score José Treviño from second base. It was the Yankees’ ninth win in 70 games this season, the most since 1943, and one that seemed pretty unlikely as they entered the final inning with just two hits.

New York took Game 1 of a highly anticipated four-game series between the AL’s top two teams, winning for the 19th time in 22 games to improve to 52-18, the third-best 70-game start in the majors since 1930.

New York also extended its home winning streak to 15 games, the team’s longest since 1961.

The Yankees entered Thursday tied for the major league lead with 20 comeback wins. Number 21 might be the most memorable.

Giancarlo Stanton, who hit a three-run homer in the first inning, led off the ninth with a walk off Pressly, and Gleyber Torres walked another during a plate appearance that included a long delay because Torres had something in his eye.

The switch-hitting Hicks then dug in from the left side and smashed an undoubted drive to right field, just the third hit for the Yankees all night and the first since Stanton’s homer.

Hicks’ third home run of the season sent the crowd of 44,071 into a frenzy.

“This was a playoff atmosphere right there,” Judge said. “When Hicks hit that home run, I looked out into the stands, everyone was jumping like crazy. This is a great series and we’re looking forward to tomorrow.”

Isiah Kiner-Falefa followed with an infield single but was ejected trying to steal the second, a close decision confirmed via replay.

Treviño then singled with one out, prompting manager Dusty Baker to get Pressly out (1-2). Treviño also hit a two-run homer in the eighth inning of a 5-4 victory at Tampa Bay on Wednesday night.

Pressly, a two-time All-Star, entered with a 5.71 ERA in 18 career appearances against the Yankees, including the postseason.

Stanek walked DJ LeMahieu, then fell behind Judge 3-0 as fans serenaded the slugger with “MVP!” chants

“I knew he was going to get the job done,” Judge said after his third career hit and second this season.

“That’s when this game is at its best, times like that,” he added. “The crowd is on its feet, the game is on. It’s the moments in your backyard that you dream of.”

Miguel Castro (4-0) pitched a hitless inning for the win.

Next up: a rare in-season arbitration hearing on Friday: Rulings are usually made in the offseason, but have been postponed beyond opening day because of the sport’s lockout. Judge is asking for a $21 million salary, while New York has offered $17 million in his final season before hitting free agency.

The Astros’ Alex Bregman and Stanton traded three-run homers in the first inning, and Houston’s Yordan Alvarez hit another three-run drive in the third against Yankees starter Jameson Taillon.

Astros starter Framber Valdez steadied himself after a shaky first inning. Jose Altuve had three hits and right fielder Kyle Tucker stole a potential home run in the eighth for Houston, but the Astros fell to 43-26 on a rare losing night for the majors’ leading bullpen.

Stanton became the first player to homer off Valdez’s elite curveball this season, and the left-hander walked away from his best pitch after that, with stellar results. With a heavy dose of sinkers, Valdez struck out seven in six innings, allowing just three runs on two hits, both in the first inning.

Valdez seemed poised to dig deep into the game until Anthony Rizzo walked on 16 pitches in the sixth. Valdez was taken out after 101 pitches.

Héctor Neris pitched a perfect seventh and Tucker helped Rafael Montero get past the eighth. After Judge reached on Bregman’s error at third base, Rizzo hit what he thought was a two-run homer to right field. With Rizzo running to first, Tucker jumped into the wall and grabbed the line for the third out.

Taillon allowed a season-high six runs, cutting short a stellar first half after years of being hampered by ill health. Houston had 10 hits in 5 2/3 innings against the right-hander.

Fans raved about the renewal of a burgeoning baseball rivalry: Houston has knocked the Yankees out of three postseason berths since 2015, including during its scandal-tainted 2017 World Series run.

Bronx fans were delighted when Taillon hit Altuve early in the game, but sank in their seats when Bregman homered to left field moments later. The lull ended when Stanton countered with his drive in the bottom of the inning.

Alvarez, who hit two home runs against the Mets on Wednesday night, hit a 113 mph low line drive into the short right-field porch of Yankee Stadium in the third. Alvarez’s 22 home runs trail only Judge’s 27 for the major league lead.

MIXED BAG

Yankees right fielder Joey Gallo made a spectacular play in the second inning, crossing the free throw line and jumping over the wall about 8 feet to catch Martin Maldonado’s fly ball.

As has been the case most of the season, Gallo wasn’t as strong at the plate, going 0-for-4 with three strikeouts.

COACHES ROOM

Stars: SS Jeremy Peña (thumb soreness) worked out in the field and Houston planned to evaluate him afterward. … OF Jake Meyers (left shoulder surgery) rejoined the team after completing a minor league rehab assignment, but was not activated.

Yankees: He traded RHP David McKay to Tampa Bay for cash, sent RHP Clarke Schmidt to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and added RHP Albert Abreu to the active roster. Abreu was with the Yankees from 2017 to 2021, mostly in the minors, but was traded to Texas in April for Treviño. Since then, Abreu has been released by the Rangers and Royals, with New York claiming him from Kansas City this week.

UNTIL NEXT TIME

Astros ace Justin Verlander (8-3, 2.30 ERA) pitches at Yankee Stadium for the first time since Game 5 of the 2019 AL Championship Series, a 4-1 loss to Houston. He is 3-4 with a 4.02 ERA in 10 stadium starts. He will face New York RHP Luis Severino (4-1, 3.27) on Friday night.

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