After 60 years and 362 days, Aaron Judge was alongside Roger Maris in the record books.
Three days before the 61st anniversary of Maris hitting his 61st home run, Judge hit his 61st home run last night at Rogers Centre in Toronto, Canada.
Judge’s historic two run blast came off of Toronto left hand reliever Tim Mayza to snap a 3-3 tie in the seventh inning as the Yankees went on to an 8-3 win over the Blue Jays.
Since hitting #60, eight days ago, Judge had gone seven games, 34 plate appearances and 21 at bats without hitting a home run before he laced a 94 MPH sinker over the left field wall.
The ball was caught by Blue Jays bullpen coach Matt Buschmann and not by a fan, so there will be no “fan-fare” (or compensation) for returning it to Judge.
When Maris circled the bases for the 61st time in 1961, he felt a sense of relief. Judge felt that same relief as he went around the bases for the 61st go round.
“When I hit it, I thought I got enough but its been a couple of games since I did that,” Judge said a short time after he made history. “You never really know if it’s gonna get out or not so I tried scoot around the bases a little bit and once it got over the fence, relief.”
Judge was 0 for 2 with a walk (his 13th since hitting 60) before he came to bat in the seventh with Aaron Hicks on first base and no one out.
With the count full, Judge fouled off the sixth and seventh pitches of the at bat before he hit the historic home run on the eighth pitch from Mayza to give the Yankees a 5-3 lead.
The steroid era diminished the impact of the home run, but Judge’s chase has legitimized the long ball again because he’s doing it clean.
“He’s clean, he’s a Yankee, he plays the game the right way,” said Roger Maris Jr., who was in Toronto and met Judge for the first time after the game. “It gives people a chance to look at somebody who should be revered for hitting 62 home runs and not just as a guy who did it in the American League. He should be revered for being the actual single season home run champ.”
After Judge came off the field, he had a friendly encounter with Maris’ son outside the Yankee clubhouse.
“I just really thanked him and said what a honor it was,” Judge said. “Getting a chance to be associated with his father is something that, you dream about things like that and for him to come to all the home games, come around here to Toronto and support and be there, definitely means a lot, that’s for sure.”
Gerrit Cole had four strikeouts to tie Ron Guidry’s single season record of 248, but Judge’s home run gave him a win and took the onus off the fact that the Yankee right hander continued to be plagued by having an inning unravel on him.
Cole is a student of baseball history, so he knows that to share a single season franchise record is a special honor. “I think it’s more special because of what Aaron did tonight, to be honest. It’s a really special number. [Ron] Guidry was so good for us,” Cole said. “To be mentioned in the same category as Yankee legends, it’s hard to wrap my head around it.”
Cole set down the first 15 Blue Jays hitters and had a 3-0 lead before Danny Jansen led off the sixth inning with a home run. It was the 32nd home run allowed by Cole this season, but Toronto wasn’t done.
The Jays had first and third with one out when Bo Bichette beat out an infield single to score a run and narrow the gap to 3-2. Cole balked the runners to second and third and Toronto tied the game on Vladimir Guerrero Jr’s sacrifice fly.
Cole gave up three runs in 6 1/3 innings pitched, but there has to be some concern for what has become a disconcerting trend. In his last four starts, Cole has given up eight home runs and 15 earned runs in 23 1/3 innings pitched and his ERA has risen from 3.20 to 3.51.
Coming off his awful outing in last season’s loss to the Red Sox in the Wild Card game, Cole will be under enormous pressure in the post season, beginning with game one of the American League Division Series.
However, it was Judge’s night and he admitted that the record may have been creeping into his head.
“Definitely some relief getting to 61. You try not to think about it but it creeps into your head. Getting a chance to do it in a Yankee win and especially on a night when Gerrit Cole ties an all time single season strikeout record, that’s a pretty special day right there,” said Judge.
Judge is getting kudos for the way he has dealt with all the attention being paid to him. “It’s tough not to think about it, you hear the noise, you hear the buzz. When I step out on that field, when I step in the box, all the hype, all the noise, it goes aside,” he said.
When Judge got back to the dugout after hitting the home run, the entire Yankee team came out on the field to hug and congratulate him. “He’s as beloved as they come,” Manager Aaron Boone said after the game. “I think everyone was so excited for him but also and I think it’s partly because of how Aaron is, but everyone feels a part of it.”
There was some talk of maybe resting Judge and then having him fresh for Friday night when the Yankees return home to face the Orioles. Judge was having none of that but he had to plead his case to someone other than Boone.
In what has developed into something of a tradition after the Yankee clinch a division title, the manager designates a player to be an acting manager for a game. Boone named Anthony Rizzo as the acting manager and Judge had to lobby his teammate. “I actually talked to our manager, Rizzo. He was the one I had to gamble with to get into the lineup,” Judge said.
So now Judge will get a chance to set the new American League record in front of the home town fans. Boone expects a raucous crowd that wants to see history.
“Pretty awesome,” Boone said. “Setting up now for an amazing atmosphere again in the Bronx, starting Friday night.”
Maris Jr. will be at Yankee Stadium and was asked if he’ll stay as long as it takes to see the record breaker. “I don’t think it’s gonna take very long,” he said.
It took nearly 61 years, but it shouldn’t be much longer.