Only record holders Barry Bonds (73), Mark McGwire (70 and 65) and Sammy Sosa (66, 64 and 63) have hit more than 62 homers in a season. All three played during a time when MLB didn’t test performance-enhancing drugs as rigorously as it does now.
So Judge, with his iconic No. 99, became a new modern prototype, a new home run hero for a new era, the latest in a long line of Yankees legends. Like all Yankees legends before him, Judge has proven himself capable of withstanding whatever New York throws at its most valuable sports stars. But even the stoic 30-year-old, known for his team demeanor that doesn’t wax and wane with his performance, had begun to show the strain of his pursuit by the time the Yankees’ final series of the season began.
Cameras normally have no trouble catching Judge wearing a smile. But with each passing at-bat, the smiles became fewer and fewer, his brow a little more furrowed. For so long, he seemed to have so much time. Suddenly he didn’t.
“It’s a huge relief,” Judge told reporters Tuesday night. “Now everyone can probably sit down and watch the football game.”
When Judge hit his 60th homer on Sept. 20, he had plenty of sticks left to catch and pass Maris, whose family began following him from town to town. For days, fans fell silent whenever a pitcher delivered a pitch to Judge, who played seven games between numbers 60 and 61, a drought that must have seemed like eons to the hitter before he finished it. last week.
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The Yankees played their last home series of the regular season, with their division title already sealed, in rain and cold last weekend. Fans still packed the stands, but the Baltimore Orioles walked Judge five times in three games and pulled him out six times.
So Judge was left to continue his pursuit in Texas. The Maris family has returned home. The judge went 1 for 4 in Monday night’s game and 1 for 5 in the first game of Tuesday’s doubleheader. Manager Aaron Boone told reporters earlier today that Judge, who would normally only play one game of a doubleheader for a team with a first-round bye locked in on the penultimate day of the season, would play both if he wasn’t going in circles. the first one.
He didn’t, and the largest paying crowd in Globe Life Field’s brief history filled the stands for the night game. The 38,832 in attendance for Texas’ 3-2 victory weren’t there to say goodbye to another disappointing Rangers season. They were there to see Judge.
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He started game two with the No. 62, a blast to left-center on a 1-1 slider from right-hander Jesus Tinoco, a classic judge swing that felt more comfortable than most of the middle hacks he’s taken since his arrival. 61. He flashed a smile around first base before restoring the all-professional look he’s made his own. And when his teammates rushed to meet him at home plate, Judge made sure to give each of them a hug.
“At home, if I look up, I look right into our dugout to see all the guys sitting on the top step waiting for this to happen,” Judge said. “Here on the road, they were behind me, so I didn’t see the more than 40 people sitting in the canoe. I think seeing them finally run onto the field, having the chance to hug them all and say congratulations, is what matters to me.
After earning a second at-bat in the second inning — he struck out — Judge returned to the field for the bottom half. Boone then made the decision to replace him, drawing loud cheers from the Texas crowd.
Judge entered the AL in home runs and RBIs on Tuesday, with a batting average lower than only one AL player, Minnesota’s Luis Arraez. Not only is he having one of the greatest offensive seasons in baseball history, he’s hitting for power at a rate unmatched by anyone in the sport. The judge has 62 circuits. The next closest player entered Tuesday with 46. Not since the days of Babe Ruth has the gap between No. 1 and No. 2 been so wide. Judge even has a shot at becoming the first AL Triple Crown winner since Miguel Cabrera of the Detroit Tigers in 2012 – and just the second since Boston Red Sox great Carl Yastrzemski in 1967.
“To be lucky enough to have my name next to someone as great as Roger Maris, Babe Ruth, those guys,” Judge said, “is amazing.”
But Ruth, Maris, Yastrzemski and the others didn’t have to face terrain like the ones Judge sees regularly. He’s tabulating those numbers at a time when offense, at least measured by batting average, is at an all-time high, at a time when pitchers have never pitched harder, and in a city where his every move is scrutinized.
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He’s putting them together months after turning down a contract offer worth more than $200 million and weeks before becoming a free agent for the first time. And he does it all for a pulverized Yankees team so set apart by injuries that the judge practically held the offense together as they clung to their lead in the AL East. They recently clinched the division title in Toronto, a late September celebration that did nothing to ease the tension of a superstar and fan base waiting for something much rarer.
Unlike Maris and Ruth, Judge makes history a generation after widespread use of since-banned drugs complicated the home run record. McGwire later admitted to using steroids when he broke Maris’ record by hitting 70 home runs in 1998. Bonds, whose troubled legacy kept him out of the Hall of Fame, followed with 73 home runs in 2001 to set the single-season record.
Maris’ son, Roger Jr., was on hand to watch Judge’s pursuit. After Judge tied Maris with No. 61, Roger Jr. told reporters he thought Judge should “be revered for being the true one-season home run champion.”
“It’s really who he is if he hits 62,” he said. “And I think that’s what needs to happen. I think baseball needs to look at records, and I think baseball should do something about it.
Judge is tallying his numbers not only against the highest speed in MLB history, but also under the strictest drug testing policy the sport has had. He said he considered Bonds’ record 73 – in other words, 62 is something but not everything. But the fact that he has topped the number no one has topped in over 30 years until the steroid era means he is now an intractable part of the conversation about the biggest showings of a season. of all time – just in time for him to hit the free agent market.
“Congratulations @TheJudge44 out of 62!” tweeted Derek Jeter, the last Yankee to write his name in history with such emphasis. “Post-season next!!!”
After all, in the Bronx, careers are measured in championships. Ruth and Maris have them. The judge will have another chance to win his first.
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