The instant Aaron Judge made contact and his 431-foot homer off Scott Barlow easily cleared the fence, the New York Yankees celebrated a 1-0 win over the visiting Kansas City Royals on Thursday.

Like the mantra of numerous college basketball teams in the NCAA Tournament, they rejoiced because Judge’s latest homer allowed the Yankees to survive and move on.

After Judge’s dramatic drive, the Yankees hope to produce much more consistently at the plate and not wait for a big hit in their final at-bat Friday night when they oppose the Royals again.

The Yankees have just six wins in 16 games since July 8, a stretch that has seen them lose nine of 12 games decided by three runs or fewer. Judge’s homer capped a rough night at the plate for New York, which was held to two hits and one walk while striking out 12 times.

“We’ve had the best player in the game on our side, and it seems like time and time again when it matters most, he seems to come up big,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said. “He’s in the middle of a special MVP-like season.”

Judge extended his major-league-leading homer total to 39 by going deep for the sixth time in seven games. He also has all of his three career game-ending homers this season.

“Huge to get us off on the homestand where it was a grind for us tonight, but we’ll take it,” Boone said.

Besides allowing Judge’s latest homer, the Royals were blanked for the third straight game despite having ample opportunities to score. Rookie MJ Melendez had two of Kansas City’s four hits, but the Royals went 0-for-8 with runners in scoring position and 0-for-14 with runners on base.

The offensive futility led to Kansas City wasting a stellar effort from starer Brady Singer, who struck out 10 in seven scoreless innings.

“We had our chances and let it get away,” Royals manager Mike Matheny said. “That’s a shame to lose a start like Brady had, because that was special.”

The Royals have not scored since Monday, when Melendez hit a two-run homer in the eighth inning of 7-0 win over the Los Angeles Angels. They are looking to avoid being blanked in four straight for the second time in team history, an ignominious feat they “accomplished” from Aug. 25-28, 2017.

Kansas City’s next attempt at producing offense will be against Gerrit Cole (9-3, 3.09 ERA), who is 3-1 with an 0.79 ERA and 47 strikeouts in 34 innings during his past five home starts.

Cole last pitched Saturday, when he allowed four runs (three earned) on nine hits in six innings of a 6-3 loss at Baltimore.

The right-hander is 4-1 with a 2.04 ERA in six career starts against the Royals. His last outing against the Royals came on April 30 in Kansas City, where he allowed five hits in six shutout innings.

Kris Bubic (2-6, 5.53 ERA), who is coming off one of his best showings this season, goes for the Royals. The 24-year-old left-hander ended a five-start winless skid Sunday when he allowed two runs in seven innings against the Tampa Bay Rays.

Bubic is 0-1 with a 3.68 ERA in two career appearances against the Yankees. His only start against the Yankees ended in a 12-2 loss at Kansas City on April 29, when he allowed three runs on four hits in five innings.

–Field Level Media