Red Sox pitcher Matt Barnes almost became the answer to a trivia question at Yankee Stadium Thursday evening but a long drive off the bat of Aaron Judge in the 9th inning was caught to the right of straight away centerfield.
Judge was denied that historic American League record 61st home run so, for another day, Roger Maris has not been bypassed. Another inch or two and the Yankees would have a script for the record books with a Judge record, walk-off win and their sixth consecutive postseason berth, 24th in the last 28 years.
43,123 Yankees fans, most of whom remained, had to settle for a 10th inning walk-off win, 5-4, over the rival Red Sox, a team out of contention but on the field. it was as if they were battling for a division title.
But this was all about Judge in the Bronx. It was about the home run record and continuing his quest to become the first AL Triple Crown winner since Miguel Cabrera did it with the Tigers in 2012. And as usual, this was Aaron Judge placing more emphasis on what his team accomplished.
“A great accomplishment,” Judge said about the Yankees securing a playoff berth and with the magic number to clinching another AL East division title dwindling to five. “A lot of hard work over the course of the season to get to this point.”
And the Yankees mission from the beginning of spring training was to win their division. The mission for Aaron Judge has always been to get his team to play deep into October and return to their first World Series since their last championship year of 2009.
Though, they come to the Bronx now to see Judge hit home runs. Every at bat, each pitch and they stand. They boo the opposing pitcher, as they did when Boston starter Michael Wacha walked Judge two times in the first and third innings.
And they cheered Judge who played Tommy Pham’s single in right field to lead off the ninth and threw him out as he tried for a double to cut short a potential Red Sox go-ahead run.
Judge said, “But I think you could ask anyone in this room, the job’s not finished. We have an ultimate goal of going out there and winning our division and setting ourselves up for the postseason. And this is step number one of many steps to come.”
The Yankees, though, believe their goal will come. First, though, this Aaron Judge home run record will eventually come at some point the next few days against the Red Sox. The Triple Crown race will play out the next three games because the Red Sox Xander Bogarts is neck-and-neck with the home run leader for the AL batting title.
And most important the division clincher is a priority as Judge continues to make baseball history.
“We are in the dance and got a chance now,” said manager Aaron Boone. “You can talk about the 60 and the Triple Crown and the other next level that makes him so special and how complete a player he is.”
Regardless, and for the moment this is all about Aaron Judge. He has created this excitement and a buzz that possibly tops all the other greats who have established milestones and provided memorable moments in New York City sports history.
The Yankees have momentum and at the right time after going through a period that prompted talk about an epic collapse. Gleyber Torres is making contact at the plate, Giancarlo Stanton, 3-for-4, hit his 28th home run of the season in the 6th inning.
And Josh Donaldson got the game winning walk-off hit off a Barnes fastball, the Yankees’ Major League leading 16th of the season. The only concern is a Yankees bullpen that continues to find themselves.
“Literally, you could hear a pin drop,” Donaldson said about the crowd that places their focus with every Judge at bat. “It’s kind of spooky, really.”
But there is no question what is going on here because the Yankees are anticipating the historic home run as the magic number dwindles to a precious few for a division title.
“It gets quiet on every pitch,” said Red Sox manager Alex Cora about the crowd at Yankee Stadium and Judge at bats. “They boo every ball. They’re having fun with it. Yankee Stadium the way it should be. He’s been that way the whole season for them.”
The Red Sox have lost many games this season like this one and Cora alluded to how Judge has made a difference for the Yankees. On the other hand, Barnes made sure to challenge Judge and prevent that home run ball.
Cora said he wasn’t coming to New York for a vacation which says a lot about the Red Sox. For the Yankees, the first mission is complete with the playoff berth.
It’s a matter of time, perhaps Friday night, when the Yankees and their fans will see the next mission with an Aaron Judge home run or two and baseball history.
Rich Mancuso:Twitter@Ring786 Facebook.com Watch “Sports with Rich” live on Tuesday Nights at 8pm EST on The SLG Network/Youtube with Robert Rizzo Available on Apple Podcasts and Spotify under The SLG Network.