TRENTON, NJ – Prior to Thursday night’s Trenton Thunder home-opener, manager Al Pedrique explained why he had Aaron Judge batting second.
“I want Aaron to get a few more at-bats,” said Pedrique. “I want him to see a few more pitches.” Perhaps Judge had been pressing a bit in the two games the Thunder lost by one run in Akron earlier in the week.
Judge, who ended the game hitting a solid .281, was not concerned about where in the lineup he was hitting, but carrying out his plan at the plate.
“I just want to get my pitch every time I go up there,” he said. “Find the best pitch to hit. That’s my plan for every at-bat.”
Portland Sea Dogs reliever Madison Younginer tried, in the bottom of the 10th, to bust a fastball by Judge, who hit a blast high over the four levels of billboards that dot Arm & Hammer Park’s left field.. The majestic shot, which gave the Thunder (4-3) a 3-2, extra-inning victory over the Sea Dogs, Boston’s Double-A affiliate, was still rising when it carried over the 35-foot mass of signs.
The ball likely bounced on New Jersey Route 29 and headed toward Lamberton Street, perhaps traveling nearly 450 feet, sending the opening-night Trenton crowd of 6,495 home happy.
“It was like it hardly touched my bat,” said Judge. “It was a fastball, and I knew it was gone. I started running around the bases and I realized the game was over. It was great to end a home-opener like that, especially with the crowd we had.”
It was the first walk-off home run by a Thunder player since Jose Pirela hit one July 22, 2012, against the Reading Fightin’ Phils.
“I never would have had that at-bat if it wasn’t for Mason’s (Williams) hit in the ninth inning.” said Judge. Williams, who is batting .348 over the Thunder’s first seven games, was 2-for-4 and drove home Eric Jagielo with two out in the bottom of the ninth to tie matters at 2-2 and force extra innings.
“That was a huge at-bat for Mason and great to see,” said Pedrique. “He really has been working hard and focusing on what he has to do.”
Other good news included an excellent effort by Thunder starter and lefty Miguel Sulbaran. In his second Double-A start, he pitched into the sixth inning. allowing just two hits and one walk in 5.2 shutout innings.
The Thunder took 1-0 lead in the the bottom of the fifth inning, when a Cito Culver double to left scored Williams from first base. The Sea Dogs’ (3-4) first run came in the seventh inning on an inside-the-park homer by Keury De La Cruz that got away in the left field corner on a diving attempt by Williams. The homer, with Johnny Barbato, who otherwise threw well, on the mound, was the first allowed by Thunder pitching this season in the first 54.2 innings.
Portland got to Nick Goody fot a run in the top of the eighth to take a 2-1 lead.
Mark Montgomery set down the Sea Dogs in the top of the ninth, displaying an excellent slider that helped record two strikeouts. Cesar Vargas earned the win with a scoreless top of the 10th.
Tyler Garrison (0-0, 4.15) faces Portland’s Mike Augliera (0-1, 4.91) as the four-game series continues at 7:05 Friday night at Arm & Hammer Park.