NEW YORK -- Never in baseball history has a first-year player hit more home runs than Aaron Judge, who now stands alone among the best rookie home run hitters of all time after New York's 11-3 win over the Royals at Yankee Stadium on Monday.
"It's incredible," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said of Judge. "I think we'll appreciate it more when we sit down and have a chance to think about what he did this year. He's in the conversation for the MVP. Not just the Rookie of the Year, but the MVP."
Judge may have made history, but Sabathia's performance Monday may have been even more important for a team looking ahead to the American League Wild Card Game and potentially the AL Division Series. The loss put the Royals six games back of the Twins for the second Wild Card, with six games remaining. The Twins are off Monday night.
The Yankees will need four starters should they advance past the Wild Card Game to avoid bringing somebody back on short rest, and Sabathia is pitching well enough to be included in that group after struggling in August. He cruised through six innings Monday, holding the Royals to three singles before allowing back-to-back home runs to Salvador Perez and Mike Moustakas in the seventh.
"Think about where we were in Toronto the last time -- where he was mentally, I wasn't sure," Girardi said. "But he's pitched really well since he put that knee brace on. He continues to pitch well and had another good day today."
The win gave Sabathia 236 for his career, tying Whitey Ford for 60th on the all-time list.
"Joe told me about that after the game," Sabathia said. "I just want to keep on going."
Moustakas' homer was his 38th of the season and chased Sabathia, who improved to 13-5 after three Yankees relievers sealed the win. But before that, the veteran lefty was able to hold an early lead by striking out four and inducing plenty of soft contact over his six-plus innings. Once he tired, the Yankees' bullpen took over and the offense started scoring again. It's a recipe the club could look to replicate come October.
Rookie right-hander Jakob Junis kept the Royals in the game until the sixth inning, when Bird's two-run home run extended the lead to 6-0. Junis wasn't even too upset at giving up Judge's third-inning home run.
"I definitely didn't think it was that bad a pitch," Junis said. "A heater up and in at [93 mph]. He's just a strong guy."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED All rise for the 50th time: It's been a sensational finish to what will go down as one of the greatest rookie seasons ever, as Judge received a standing ovation after he was removed for a pinch-runner in the eighth. The crowd cheered in appreciation of his historic day, but it felt just as much an appreciation of his year as a whole. Judge is just the fifth Yankees player to hit 50 home runs in a season, joining Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris and Alex Rodriguez.
"Just getting a chance to play one game with the Yankees was quite an honor," Judge said. "To have my name with those greats is something I never dreamed of."
Both teams go back to back: After Perez and Moustakas went back to back in the seventh to chase Sabathia, the Yankees answered with the heart of their order in the bottom half. When Judge and Sanchez went back to back off Cahill, it marked the third straight time they've been the Yankees hitters to do so this season. The two have 83 home runs, the most by Yankees teammates since Maris and Mantle combined for 115 in 1961.
"He's so strong. There's no part of the ballpark he can't drive it out of. And it seems like he's a genuinely nice kid. He just goes out and plays baseball the right way." -- Royals manager Ned Yost, on Judge
"If I'm a GM or an owner, I'd take 300 strikeouts with the year he's had." -- Yankees third baseman Todd Frazier, on Judge
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With his homers Monday, Judge has now homered against every AL team this season.
Moustakas, who already owned the Royals' single-season home run record, tied Bob Cerv for the most ever by a Kansas City player. Cerv hit 38 for the 1958 Kansas City A's, two years after the A's acquired him from the Yankees.
WHAT'S NEXT Royals: Left-hander Jason Vargas (17-10, 4.03 ERA) will be on the mound as the Royals begin their final homestand of the season Tuesday night at Kauffman Stadium against the Tigers. Vargas will be looking to become the Royals' first 18-game winner since Kevin Appier won 18 in 1993. Right-hander Anibal Sanchez (3-5, 6.68 ERA) starts for the Tigers, with first pitch set for 7:15 p.m. CT.
Yankees: Judge now has six games to add to his single-season rookie home run record, though Girardi wants to get him an off-day at some point before the AL Wild Card Game. If he plays Tuesday, he'll swing for history against Rays lefty Blake Snell, when lefty Jordan Montgomery and the Yankees open a three-game set against the Rays at Yankee Stadium. First pitch is set for 7:05 p.m. ET.