NEW YORK – Amid the trot for the most notable and historic home run in more than a decade, the one that brought Aaron Judge to a level honored by baseball royalty, the Yankees slugger chose not to revel, exult or bask in the moment. And about an hour later, the Yankees slugger celebrated the occasion of the 60th home run of his magnificent 2022 season on Tuesday night by lamenting the fact that he hadn’t hit it earlier in the game, when the bases were loaded, as opposed to when he did, late in the ninth inning with them empty and New York trailing the Pittsburgh Pirates.
“I was kicking myself as I ran around the bases,” Judge said. “Like, man, you idiot, you should have done this a little earlier.”
Eventually, prodded by his teammates and manager, Judge offered those who stayed at Yankee Stadium and got more of his magic a half-hearted encore. It was more out of duty than desire. All season long, while he’s been chasing ghosts and the numbers they’re associated with, the kind of things that matter a lot in baseball but very little in Judge, he’s been unwavering in his insistence that the team replaces the individual. To him, it all felt weird, disappointing, wrong – another round number hit, but with his team still down three points and just three outs from another loss, just like when he reached 50.
Only something happened. Anthony Rizzo reached base, then Gleyber Torres, then Josh Donaldson, and stepped up Giancarlo Stanton, and Wil Crowe left a change too high, and Stanton sent him over the left field wall on a line. This time, it looked like Judge was the first out of the dugout, there to greet his teammates at home plate, to celebrate an unlikely 9-8 win that took an important night for the rest of the world and steeped it in consequence. for him. , too.
As crazy as it sounds to believe that Judge thinks that way – that he’s so team-focused, so visionary, that he doesn’t allow himself the grace to enjoy this moment unless his teammates have also something to celebrate – everyone around him swears it’s true. That he truly resembles a machine in his conviction, the reverse of the personality of the person whose single record he equaled on Tuesday.
When Babe Ruth hit his 60th home run to break his own mark in 1927, he said after the game, “Sixty! Count ’em up, 60! Let’s see another son of b—- match that!” He was pure Babe: a bit arrogant and a lot pompous, even enjoying his place in the story at the time, perhaps because he had gotten so used to writing it. Early baseball record books featured Ruth’s name so much that they felt biographical. He was the game in the 1920s, and the fact that he continues to play such an important role a century later illustrates that despite all the pomp, he understood the enormity of the shadow he cast.
Others eventually beat 60 – first Roger Maris in 1961, then Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa and Barry Bonds, although the latter three were aided by performance-enhancing drugs, a fact that does not invalidate their achievements as much as it offers important context. through which to view them. Ruth’s record came before integration. Maris preceded the internationalization of the game. Each brand carries its baggage.
Which is part of the reason Judge apologizes for talking numbers. He only said “60” once in a post-game press conference. He said “team” at least 10 times. He could get tangled up in a debate over the real record or the legitimate record. He prefers an almost hymn-like dedication to the party line he lives by.
“To have a chance to play baseball in Yankee Stadium, sold-out, first-place team, that’s what you dream of,” Judge said. “I love every second. Even when we were down you don’t like to lose, but I knew the top of the lineup was coming, we had a chance to come back here and do something special. J try to enjoy it all, soak it all up, but I know I still have a job to do on the pitch every day.”
He seems to be saying it: somehow this life, this reality, doesn’t bother Judge. As much as Ruth reveled in it, Maris hated it. As he and teammate Mickey Mantle chased Ruth in 1961, Maris made coffee and tore cigarettes and watched her hair fall out in clumps. And while he wanted to perform well, Maris saw his legacy as a burden, saying: “It would have been a lot more fun if I had never hit those 61 home runs. All that got me, that are headaches.”
The judge’s head is stable, clear, unshakeable. Which is lucky, because as much as he’d love to knock out the numbers — hitting 61 to tie Maris for the American League record and 62 to break him — he almost accidentally ensured there wouldn’t be a clean slate. Along with possessing unbeatable leads in home runs and RBIs, Judge’s explosion in the ninth pushed his batting average to an AL-best .316. That is to say, while the Yankees stay on the last 15 games of their season and look to win an AL East title in a division they now lead by 5 ½ games over Toronto, they will do it with Judge pursuing not only Ruth and Maris. but the second Triple Crown in the past half-century.
He is a man who has played his entire career in the Bronx. A man who turned down a seven-year contract extension on opening day. Aaron Judge knows the pressure of the numbers, the accolades, the team performance, the impending free agency that comes with a whole different kind of number this winter. On Tuesday, he ventured to check the names of his ancestors — “You’re talking about Ruth and Maris and Mantle and all those great Yankees…” Judge said — but didn’t delve into that line of thinking.
The past is about the ego. The present is a team matter. And the New York Yankees, undeniably Aaron Judge’s team, earned perhaps their best win of the season on Tuesday. As Stanton trotted out for the grand slam that was, Judge could clear his mind of whoever might have been, unburdened.
The night he hit 60 – yes, baby, count ’em, 60 – he reveled, exulted and reveled in a different home run, hit by another man of immense stature. The world can have the remarkable and historic solo hit. Aaron Judge will take the grand slam that won the Yankees another baseball game.
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