By Jason Keidel
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Last year, Gary Sanchez slammed into the Bronx like an asteroid, swatting home runs with (appropriately) Ruthian power and persistence.
While the Yankees were surely a year or two from full rebound, halfway into their rebuild and remake from Darth Vader to something more likable and sustainable, Sanchez provided a portal, a glimpse into a glittering future.
But the beauty of young men is that they don’t follow orders or expectations very well. Why wait two years to dominate if you’re ready right now? It is that spirit that allowed Sanchez to smash ceilings and records in 2016, and is allowing one of his teammates to duplicate those Herculean feats in 2017.
Had you told someone last October that not only would Sanchez find his equal, his diamond soulmate, but someone who might actually be better, you’d have demanded a urine sample on the spot.
Fast-forward a few months, and Aaron Judge is looking like the Hulk in pinstripes. Not only is Judge mashing mammoth homers at an epic pace, he’s already making a name for himself as an all-time rookie on a club that’s coated in historical hues. Judge is only the seventh Yankee to hit at least 20 homers in his team’s first 60 games — he has a MLB-leading 21. We were reminded of that again Sunday, during the Yankees’ drubbing of the Orioles, when Judge bashed his latest moonshot — a 496-foot blast that nearly hit off the retired numbers in left-center, the longest homer since ESPN began making official measurements in 2009.
And it makes you wonder about the last time the Yankees had dual-debuts like this, particularly from homegrown players. When it comes to cornerstone players, the Yanks seemed to have a red carpet laid down every decade or so, from Ruth and Gehrig to DiMaggio to Mantle; from Thurman Munson to Mattingly to Jeter. No team hands the bat and baton to the next legend better than the Bronx Bombers.
But when did the Yankees have twin sluggers of this heft enter their careers almost simultaneously? With the same, booming characteristics? If they keep this up, the Yankees have a historic one-two punch for the next decade or so.
During the Bronx Zoo era, Reggie Jackson was the big bopper, but with no one to complete the duet. And, of course, Mr. October started his career in Oakland, not New York.
Fast-forward to the ’80s, when Dave Winfield and Don Mattingly sent a few fly balls over the wall. But again, Winfield migrated from San Diego, while Donnie Baseball was homegrown.
Not even the Joe Torre dynasty saw two kids of these contours. The Core Four featured two pitchers, a catcher and shortstop. And as gifted as Derek Jeter and Jorge Posada were, neither was renowned for tape-measure shots. Bernie WIlliams was arguably the biggest power hitter among those spawned by their ’90s farm system, and Williams, again, was not a classic slugger, didn’t swat 30 homers until his 10th season and never hit that many again.
Certainly Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig qualify as boppers, and safe to say they are (and always will be) better than Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez. But alas, only Gehrig played exclusively in pinstripes, while Ruth was famously (or infamously) sold to the Yankees.
We are eternal prisoners of the moment, so naturally we project Hall of Fame qualities upon a pair of young men barely old enough to buy a beer. But it’s hard to ignore how good both are and how quickly they got this good. But no matter how you feel about the Yanks — or this pair of Yanks — it’s hard to fathom them as flukes.
The Yankees (37-23) are well ahead of schedule, their two- or three-year resurgence sped up to today, to now. Perhaps the biggest homers predicted the Yankees would be quite competitive, but no one of sound body and brain anticipated they would be in first place, by four games, halfway through June. And if not for the absurdly streaking Astros (44-20), the Bombers would have the best record in the American League.
They had too many variables, from their rotation to the lineup, from their aging, decaying stars to their obscenely young, potential studs. But the potential studs are quickly maturing into stars, and the variables are morphing into victories. And, if you’re honest, it’s hard, if not impossible, to think of a better diamond duo so young, so good and so native as Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez.
And this is just the beginning. For the Bronx Bombers, and their two young Bombers.
Follow Jason on Twitter at @JasonKeidel