Aaron Judge plays emotional role in MLB tribute to Hank Aaron

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DENVER — Aaron Judge scored a run in the MLB All-Star Game Tuesday night, yet there’s no way that’s what he’ll remember most about this evening.

Before the American League defeated the National League at Coors Field, 5-2, for an eighth straight victory, the Yankees right fielder joined the Braves’ Freddie Freeman in escorting Billye Aaron, the widow of beloved Hall of Famer Hank Aaron, to home plate for an emotional pregame ceremony. As Major League Baseball presented Ms. Aaron with a commissioned painting of her husband as well as an Aaron Braves jersey autographed by the members of both teams, Judge comforted the honoree by patting her shoulder with his right hand.

Aaron died in January at age 86. The pregame festivities also recognized the nine other Hall of Famers (Lou Brock, Whitey Ford, Bob Gibson, Al Kaline, Tommy Lasorda, Joe Morgan, Phil Niekro, Tom Seaver and Don Sutton) who died since the most recent All-Star Game occurred in 2019.

As the AL’s cleanup hitter, Judge drew a second-inning walk that led to him scoring the game’s first run. He then grounded into a fielder’s choice and flied out to right field. In the bottom of the third, he hopped to spear a blast to right-center field by the Pirates’ Bryan Reynolds.

The Mets’ Taijuan Walker made his debut in this game by serving up a homer to his former Mariners battery mate Mike Zunino, now with the Rays, and striking out the Royals’ Whit Merrifield during his one inning of work.

“I had a good time. It was fun,” Walker said. “I got myself a strikeout and gave up a homer to a teammate who knows how I pitch.”

The highlight, he said, was “just hearing my family [his wife, mother and siblings] scream for me. I heard them scream for me when I got the strikeout.”

Walker said he will head to Arizona for a few days and will then meet the team in Pittsburgh.

Yankees reliever Aroldis Chapman, who lost his closing job during the last week of the first half, didn’t pitch. Said AL manager Kevin Cash of the Rays: “we had talked and decided he was fine. He went to the back of the list, but with Chap, if he’s pitching, you know that generally good things are happening and you’re winning the game.”

Asked whether Chapman’s recent struggles factored into that strategy, Cash said, “None whatsoever. None whatsoever. He’s a big game pitcher.”

Chapman infuriated Cash and the Rays last year when he threw high and tight to Tampa Bay’s Mike Brosseau, who wound up beating Chapman and the Yankees with the homer to win the AL Division Series.

During pre-game batting practice, meanwhile, Chapman wrote a message on his cap reading, “Patria Y Vida” _ literally “Homeland and Life” and “SOS Cuba.” Both served as messages to his native Cuba, which has seen its residents mount historic protests this week against food and medicine shortages.

“(The All-Star Game is) an event for me because the whole world sees it,” Chapman told Jesus Ortiz of ouresquina.com. “It’s an event that the entire U.S. watches. Many countries see it. Sending a clear message to the whole world so they know what’s happening in my country.”

Chapman, who defected from Cuba in 2009, said he has many family members and friends still in the country: “My message is that we have to keep fighting. We cannot stop or be fearful. We have to go forward. Confronting what happens or whatever, we have to try to look for the liberty that every Cuban has dreamed about for many years.”

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