The build-up over the past week since Aaron Judge hit his 60th home run has been nothing short of epic. As he pursued homer #61, still regarded by baseball purists as the de facto all-time single season record despite the fact that it was eclipsed in the steroid era by three other players on four separate occasions, media coverage was both omnipresent and the source of castigation from both fans and politicians.
Allow Apple TV+ to keep its exclusive rights to air a game? That was enough for New York’s Attorney General to demand they opt out of that. The reaction to ESPN breaking into the coverage of their Saturday college football games to show live coverage of each of Judge’s at bats called out its president Jimmy Pitaro as nothing more than a clueless Yankee fan who was dogwhistling “real” football fans with such a tone-deaf move.
And an awful lot of those at bats were walks. No less than 13 of Judge’s 35 at bats between September 21 and 28 were walks, only one of them intentional.
Well, finally, in the seventh inning of last night’s 8-3 win in Toronto, Judge did indeed hit his 61st home run into the Toronto bullpen, tying him with Maris and assuring his baseball immortality. As longtime Yankee announcer Michael Kay exclaimed as he rounded the bases, “He’s Been Chasing History! And Now He Makes It!”. And with no asterisks in sight. He hit #60 in Game #147, seven games quicker than Ruth’s #60, which game in Yankee game #154 in 1927. And he hit #61 in Game #155, seven games quicker than Maris.
So now the sprint to the finish line begins with a series at home against the Baltimore Orioles, who have given up 18 home runs to him in 2021 and 2022, more than any other team has given up to any other player over that span. It’s quite likely that he will hit #62 at home against them, which, more importantly, would also be a base hit. And, frankly, now Judge can focus on a chase, one that could arguably cement this as the greatest single season of any baseball player in history, and eclipse one set 66 years ago by yet another Yankees great.
In 1956 Mickey Mantle had the only Triple Crown season in Yankees history, hitting 52 home runs, driving in 130 runs and hitting .353 in leading the Yankees to a World’s Championship. Judge now has 130 ribbies of his own, so he’ll also top Mantle in that category should he hit 62. His physical presence reminds many longtime Yankee fans of what Mantle was destined to be, and in ’56 reached the apex of his career at age 25, recovering enough from an injury he suffered during his rookie year in the 1951 World Series that robbed him of the speed he had coming up as the “Commerce Comet”. In later years, Mantle was besieged with other injuries. Indeed, he provided Maris with exciting competition–not to mention a lot of hair loss–during that iconic summer of 1961, and most Yankee fans felt he was the heir apparent to Ruth’s legacy and openly rooted for him to break the Babe’s record. But further injuries curtailed his chase that year, which proved to be one of the Mick’s last hurrahs as a productive player.
Judge has been chasing Maris’ statistical record, but he’s also been chasing Mickey’s legacy, as well as his Triple Crown achievement. And he’s got some ground to make up, having batted only .273 during that eight-game span between homers 60 and 61. His previous challenger, Boston’s Xander Bogaerts, did even worse, so he’s now four percentage points behind. But Minnesota’s Luis Arraez has vaulted into a statistical tie witjh Judge at .313 as of this writing, and looms as the biggest threat to Judge’s Triple Crown. And with Minnesota now eliminated from playoff competition, it’s a virtual certainty he;ll be playing every game down the stretch. They close out their home schedule today with an afternoon game against the White Sox, another Central Division team that faded down the stretch, and then play them in Chicago for a season-closing series next week after three on the road in Detroit.
The pursuit, and Judge’s determination, almost assures his presence in the lineup not only against Baltimore but also in Texas next week. So on paper both Judge and Arraez will be going against less than stellar pitching competition, giving people reason to watch games other than those involving the Mets and the Braves.
It’ll be exciting, and Judge is supremely confident of his chances. After all, he’s caught Ruth and Maris, and he may yet catch Mantle. Catching Luis Arraez should be cake, right?