Hicks can only ‘tip cap’ to Yankees’ Judge after two-homer game

Author:
NBC Sports Bay Area

SAN FRANCISCO – Jordan Hicks wishes he could take back two pitches from the Giants’ 6-2 loss against the New York Yankees on Friday night at Oracle Park.

“Can you guess?” Hicks sarcastically asked after the loss.

The answer couldn’t have been more obvious. Yankees superstar and Northern California native Aaron Judge took Hicks yard twice in the slugger’s first game at the Giants’ home ballpark. He first hit a three-run blast in the third inning into the left-field bleachers, and later smacked a solo shot to dead-center field in the sixth inning. 

Both were no-doubters. Neither made Hicks guess what was about to happen next. 

“With that power, when he hits the ball I know it’s gone,” Hicks said. “There’s some guys, they hit it and it’s like this might be right at the wall, but it’s just a different sound.” 

Listen for yourself. 

The moment ball met bat, the result wasn’t in question. What was about to happen next wasn’t going to be a single, double or triple, and it sure as hell wasn’t about to be an out. 

Hicks had previously faced Judge three times and had struck him out twice. But all their previous matchups came when Hicks was a reliever when he regularly was rearing back and throwing 101 and 102 mph. The hardest pitch Hicks threw Friday night were two 96.1 mph sinkers – one two Gleyber Torres and one to Judge. 

The two pitches Judge homered off Hicks were 86.8 mph and 91.9 mph.

“You catch a top-three hitter in the game with his best month of his career probably, I gotta tip my cap,” Hicks said. “I think he played great, hit some solid pitches. Obviously I wish I could have one or two of them back, but just don’t get into three-ball counts. 

“That’s my best advice.” 

While Hicks said he’d take back two pitches that were launched 820 feet, a splitter that traveled 394 feet and a sinker that went 426 feet, there’s a bigger lesson to be learned that the 27-year-old identified. Hicks, or anybody else for that matter, can’t let such a powerful bat like Judge get into a favorable situation.

Hicks didn’t allow a walk for the fourth time this season in 12 starts. Yet he also fell behind in 10 of the 23 batters he faced. Though he threw over 67 percent strikes, Hicks let perhaps the most intimidating man in baseball feel mighty comfortable at the plate.

Judge hit both of his homers in three-ball counts. Hicks threw a first-pitch ball during the at-bat of Judge’s first homer but then had two strikes on him two pitches later. Judge wound up battling an eight-pitch at-bat before taking advantage of a splitter in his wheelhouse. 

The long ball was the first homer Hicks has allowed off a splitter all season. 

Hicks threw a first-pitch strike in Judge’s next at-bat, but then three straights balls way out of the zone put him in a tough spot. Judge then once again unloaded on a ball low and inside, this time a sinker that sank right where all 6-foot-7 of him wanted it. 

“He’s just too good of a hitter to be that comfortable,” Hicks said. “You got to be a lot more selective in those moments.” 

Although the five runs, four earned, that Hicks gave up were his most allowed this season, he also hit a milestone. Hicks already had thrown 89 pitches through five innings. His previous season high and career high was 96 pitches on April 21. The Giants’ bullpen has been through the ringer and Hicks told manager Bob Melvin after the fifth inning that he still felt good. 

When Hicks was pulled in the sixth, he came out having thrown a new career-high 101 pitches. Hicks is happy to hit the milestone for the first time in the majors, and didn’t feel more fatigued compared to other outings. 

“I feel like I’m at a full build up right now,” Hicks said. “It’s good for me in my own head to get that 100-pitch mark. If there is a situation where we need to go 110 and the bullpen is beat up or something like that, I think 10 or 15 extra pitches isn’t too far off.” 

Nobody holding a baseball stood a chance in shutting down Judge all throughout May, Hicks included. Judge slashed .371/.488/.928 for the month. The 2022 AL MVP hit 12 doubles, 14 homers and 27 RBI on his way to becoming the first player this season to reach 20 dingers. 

The “Let’s go Yankees!” chants echoed. The letters “M-V-P” were shouted more times than concession workers looking for their next hot-dog eater. Hicks wasn’t alone, he was merely in the way of a man returning to his hometown park to end a month of mowing down everything in his way, leaving fans with another bitter taste of agony from a star who turned them down.

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