TORONTO — The last time Aaron Judge was at Rogers Centre before this week, all eyes were on him as he chased and captured home run No. 61.
This time, Judge has become the center of attention once again — for much different reasons.
The reigning AL MVP’s darting eyeballs during his at-bat in the eighth inning Monday night — which ended with him crushing a 462-foot home run — caught the attention of the Blue Jays’ TV broadcast and eventually the team’s clubhouse, which wondered what Judge could have been looking at.
The implication was that Judge may have been glancing at the Yankees’ dugout or first-base coach Travis Chapman to pick up a late sign on a pitch type or location, which is within the rules if technology is not used.
But how the speculation got started, by Sportsnet broadcasters Dan Shulman and Buck Martinez, clearly irked Judge.
“I got some choice words about that, but better just to keep that off the record,” Judge said Tuesday afternoon, when asked about the insinuation that he was cheating, before letting his swing do the talking with a go-ahead homer in the Yankees’ 6-3 win later that night.
“Especially with the things that have happened in this game with cheating stuff and to get that thrown out, I’m not happy about it. But people can say what they want. I still got a game to play, I got things I gotta do. I told you guys what happened and everybody else can make their own story about it.”
The situation quickly caught fire in a sport that has been tainted by illegal electronic sign-stealing scandals, most notably the Astros’ scheme in 2017-18.
The Blue Jays brought the issue to Major League Baseball, but the league did not find any indication that there were any major rule violations in Monday’s game.
The Yankees were expected to be reminded about coaches’ positioning ahead of Tuesday’s game, though it remained a point of contention in the early innings with both teams complaining about opposing coaches being outside of the box.
Aaron Boone revealed that the Yankees had also been in contact with MLB but the manager did not anticipate the matter being investigated.
“Because nothing that went on [Monday] night was against the rules,” Boone said.
Judge’s explanation on Monday night was that he was peeking at the Yankees’ dugout because he was unhappy with his teammates’ unnecessary chirping of the home plate umpire in a 6-0 game even after Boone had been ejected earlier in his at-bat.
Blue Jays manager John Schneider said Tuesday he “found it a little funny that [Judge] was worrying about his dugout while he was in the batter’s box.”
Instead, the Blue Jays seemed to think the issue had to do with where the Yankees’ base coaches were positioned, outside of the box painted onto the field for them.
“What’s fair is fair, and if our guys are giving stuff away, we have to be better at that,” Schneider said. “If things are being picked up from people that aren’t in places they should be, that’s where I think the line should be drawn.
“It’s easy to look at a runner at second when you’re hitting. Tough to look into the dugout. Probably a little bit easier to look at a [base] coach. I think there’s boxes on the field for a reason. When it’s a glaring 30 feet where you’re not in that spot, you kind of put two and two together.”
If the Yankees had picked up a tell in the eighth inning Monday — either on reliever Jay Jackson or catcher Alejandro Kirk in the way he was positioned behind the plate — it is unlikely they would have come out and said that, especially against a division rival.
But there were no signs to be stolen because Jackson and Kirk were using PitchCom — with Kirk pressing a button on the device that was then transmitted to Jackson on the mound — for the entirety of the inning.
“What everyone looks at is you’re trying to eliminate one side of the plate in terms of where a catcher is setting up,” Schneider said. “You see a ton of catchers around the league, our guys included, set up very late, even with no runners on. Or start in and move out to try to deke a location here or there.
“Where the gray area is … if you’re a runner and you can see in the pitcher’s glove, that’s on our pitcher. The bases are where they are for a reason, and the coaching boxes are where they are for a reason. As long as you’re playing within the rules, it’s our job to make sure that we’re playing clean.”
The left-handed hitting Jake Bauers, batting before Judge in that eighth inning Monday, could also be seen on the broadcast quickly looking toward his left (in the direction of third-base coach Luis Rojas or the Blue Jays dugout) before one of the pitches in his at-bat, though it did not receive the same scrutiny as Judge’s multiple glances.
Still, there was also the fact that Jackson threw Judge six straight sliders, the last of which hung over the heart of the plate.
“I think everything that needs to be said was said [Monday],” Judge said. “I really don’t see why it’s a story, to be honest. But I can see why, I guess, if their broadcasters want to make a deal about it. They can say anything they want.”