“He’s the best player in the world right now and he continues to show you why all the time,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said.
Back home from a 6-1 trip, the Yankees (30-20) won their fifth straight in a series opener between AL East rivals who both entered on a roll. They improved to 15-5 in their last 20 games, moving 10 games above .500 for the first time this season.
Cedric Mullins and Gunnar Henderson homered for Baltimore. Following consecutive walks by Cole with two outs in the first, Adam Frazier hit a two-run double that glanced off the glove of a lunging Judge in deep right field.
“We’ve played so many close games, we’re bound to lose once in a while that’s tight like that,” Orioles manager Brandon Hyde said. “But I thought we played a really good game of baseball.”
Bader went deep in the fourth and tied the score with a sacrifice fly against starter Kyle Bradish in a three-run fifth. Anthony Rizzo had an RBI double, and DJ LeMahieu followed with a run-scoring single that made it 4-3.
Cole, who reached 2,000 strikeouts in the second, was pulled after giving up back-to-back singles to start the sixth. Terrin Vavra put the Orioles back in front 5-4 with a bases-loaded groundout against Ron Marinaccio.
Baltimore’s stingy bullpen held it there until Judge, who set an American League record with 62 homers last year, drove an 0-2 splitter from Félix Bautista over the left-field fence with one out in the ninth.
“His split’s one of the hardest pitches to hit,” Hyde said. “He’s scuffling with it right now. He just hung it.”
It was Judge’s 14th home run this season and eighth in his last nine games.
“No one was surprised,” Volpe said. “Everything he does, he makes look easy.”
Added Cole: “There’s never really a moment that’s too big for him.”
Bautista struck out the other three batters he faced, but New York scratched across the winning run against Bryan Baker (3-2) in the 10th.
Bader’s slow bouncer advanced the automatic runner, pinch-runner Isiah Kiner-Falefa, from second to third. Willie Calhoun was intentionally walked and Volpe lofted a long fly to center that was caught just in front of the warning track, allowing Kiner-Falefa to score without a throw.
It was the first walk-off RBI in the majors for Volpe. He was swarmed by teammates between first and second, then doused with cold liquid by Judge and Rizzo as he was interviewed on the field.
“Couldn’t let him get off without a little bit of water,” Judge said with a grin.
Michael King (1-1) pitched two hitless innings, striking out three. He fanned the first two batters in the 10th, and Volpe made a jumping catch at shortstop of Frazier’s humpback liner to keep it tied.
Cole needed the fewest games (278) of any right-hander in major league history to reach 2,000 strikeouts. Only left-handers Randy Johnson (262 games) and Clayton Kershaw (277) did it faster. In terms of innings, Cole (1,714 2/3) also ranks third behind lefty Chris Sale (1,626) and righty Pedro Martinez (1,711 1/3).
“It’s a pretty special accomplishment,” Cole said. “I was pretty depressed about the whole thing for the most part until Judgie came through and picked us up.”
BIG MAN’S GAME
During batting practice, the 6-foot-7 Judge chatted on the field with NBA star Karl-Anthony Towns of the Minnesota Timberwolves. Judge gave the 6-11 Towns one of his bats.
Orioles: RHP Dillon Tate (elbow flexor strain) threw 23 pitches and got two outs in a rehab appearance for Triple-A Norfolk. … INF Ramón Urías (left hamstring strain) will be the DH for Class A Aberdeen on Wednesday.
Yankees: 3B Josh Donaldson (right hamstring strain) could begin a minor league rehab assignment Thursday. … LHP Carlos Rodón joined the team and said he no longer has back pain following a round of injections this month. Rodón threw from 120 feet, and the Yankees hope to plan a bullpen session for him by the end of this week. … DH/OF Giancarlo Stanton (left hamstring strain) took batting practice and has been feeling good, but there’s no timetable yet for starting a rehab assignment. … C Jose Trevino (left hamstring strain) is running and will begin baseball activities this week. … RHP Tommy Kahnle (right biceps tendinitis) is scheduled to get four outs in a minor league game Thursday and probably will have at least one more rehab outing.
Baltimore RHP Tyler Wells (3-1, 2.94 ERA) starts the middle game of the series Wednesday night against LHP Nestor Cortes (4-2, 5.21).
Wells is 0-4 with a 4.68 ERA and one save in 11 career games — five starts — versus the Yankees. He entered Tuesday leading the majors in WHIP (0.79) and opponent on-base percentage (.214).