By RONALD BLUM AP Baseball Writer
NEW YORK (AP) — The bat for Aaron Judge has gotten loud again.
His power ebbed for much of a season interrupted by a strained oblique, Judge has resumed his familiar role as a force in the Yankees’ batting order. His go-ahead, two-run homer in the third inning started New York to a 4-1 win over the Texas Rangers on Wednesday night that lifted the Yankees 43 games over .500 for the first time since 2009.
It was just Judge’s 20th this season, well off his standard. Gleyber Torres added his 34th home run , tying Gary Sánchez for the lead on a team that has hit 263, second to Minnesota. Sánchez thinks Judge can still reach 30 during New York’s final 21 games.
“That’s the goal,” Judge said. “So I’m going to have to keep chasing him, him and Gleyber. I’ve got to find what they’re eating over there, man. They’re not sharing with me.”
Judge started the season with five homers and 11 RBIs in his first 20 games, then strained his right oblique April 20 while singling against Kansas City and did not return until June 21. He hit .256 with seven homers and 22 RBIs in his first 49 games. Day after day, Judge said he felt fine and was merely hitting the ball at people, though drives that usually soared over fences were caught on the warning track.
“I actually think he was swinging the bat the first probably three, four weeks as good as he has all year,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said of Judge’s return. “I still think he’s going to continue to swing it even better and get into a better place, especially as these games get more important.”
Judge’s revival started Aug. 20 with 467-foot home run to left at Oakland off Joakim Soria, Judge’s first pulled home run this season. He homered in all three games that weekend at Dodger Stadium and starting with the West Coast trip opener at the Athletics, he is hitting .317 with eight homers and 12 RBIs in 15 games, leaving him with a .275 average and 45 RBIs.
“If I’m on another team where you’re the main guy that’s supposed to be kind of driving the team and you’re not getting hits, that kind of weighs on you,” he said before reeling off many of the Yankees’ sluggers as a counterpoint. “That kind of gets it off your mind.”
Judge was a unanimous 2017 AL Rookie of the Year after hitting 52 homers with 115 RBIs. His 2018 season was interrupted when his right wrist was broken by a pitch from the Royals’ Jakob Junis on July 26, an injury that sidelined him until Sept. 14 and limited him to 27 homers and 67 RBIs for the season.
Judge lined a fastball from Lance Lynn (14-10) over the right field wall in the third inning following Brett Gardner’s walk, the fifth Yankees player to hit 20 homers this season.
“Obviously not a homer in any other ballpark,” Rangers manager Chris Woodward said.
Torres homered in the bottom half and joined Joe DiMaggio as the only Yankees to hit 34 homers at age 22 or younger, and Judge threw out an oversliding Ronald Guzman trying to stretch a single to right leading off the fifth.
New York improved to 92-49, including 11-2 when using Chad Green as an opener. Green allowed two hits in two innings, and Boone said he might use an opener in the postseason.
“It’s something that certainly would be on the table for us because it is a way we can go and feel like we can really be effective,” Boone said.
Luis Cessa (2-1) gave up two hits in three innings, and Cory Gearrin allowed a ninth-inning homer to Rougned Odor.
Lynn dropped to 0-4 in his last six starts, allowing three runs in five innings.
Texas matched its season-worst of five games under .500 at 68-73 and dropped a season-high 22 1/2 games back of first place in the AL West.
Peeved that plate umpire Will Little kept throwing balls out of play, Lynn yelled to him: “We’ve got a plane to catch.” Little responded he only discarded balls hit in the dirt or off bat handles. Lynn said he was told crew chief Joe West made the decision.
“They want the pace of game to be quicker, but they’re slowing it down,” Lynn said.
New York has won nine straight series rubber games. The Yankees are 18-0-3 in their last 21 home series, their longest unbeaten series streak at home since 1997-98.
Boone has used 136 lineups in 141 games.
Austin Romine had a pair of hits with the runner on first going, including an RBI double in the sixth.
Rangers: RF Nomar Mazara missed his second straight game due to a sore left oblique. … OF Hunter Pence (strained lower back), who has not played since Aug. 22, could rejoin the Rangers during the upcoming series in Baltimore but will not be activated. … OF Joey Gallo (right wrist surgery) took early batting practice and could return mid-month, He last played July 23.
Yankees: OF Giancarlo Stanton will head to the team’s minor league complex in Tampa, Florida, this week for batting practice, among the final steps before returning for the final weeks of an injury-wrecked season.
Rangers: LHP Kolby Allard (3-0) opens a four-game series at Baltimore, which starts LHP John Means (10-9).
Yankees: RHP Domingo Germán (17-3), tied for the big league lead in wins, starts Friday’s opener of a four-game series at Boston.