Aaron Judge sheepishly climbed up the stairs for the curtain call and ducked back into the dugout as quickly as he could. The Yankees slugger had just tied Babe Ruth with 60 home runs in the season, becoming one of just three Yankees ever to reach that plateau, one behind the American League and team record of Roger Maris’ 61. But Judge was kicking himself for not doing it earlier.
“Why didn’t I do this with the bases loaded, a little earlier in the game,” Judge was saying to himself as he rounded the bases and the Stadium in the Bronx went berserk. Four batters later, Judge lost his mind. Judge’s historic home run sparked a five-run rally in the ninth, capped by Giancarlo Stanton’s walk-off grand slam to beat the Pirates 9-8 in front of 40,157 in the Stadium.
Anthony Rizzo followed Judge’s historic homer with a double and Gleyber Torres drew a walk. Josh Donaldson had his fly ball to shallow center drop in and Stanton crushed his 27th homer of the season to win it.
On the night that Judge’s name moved into the rarified air of Ruth and Maris, he was more excited about Stanton breaking out of his slump and pulling a win out at the last minute.
“It was an all around great team game,” Judge said. “That’s what this team is made up of. We were kind of slow to start, especially against a good rookie pitcher, but guys worked hard until the very end. So I will remember those four at-bats leading up to Giancarlo’s grand slam walk off.”
Judge became just the sixth player in major league history (ninth time) to hit at least 60 home runs in a single season, tying Ruth’s 1927 mark of 60. That’s the second-most in Yankees history and one shy of the team and American League record set by Maris in 1961.
Only Maris, Barry Bonds (73 in 2001), Mark McGwire (70 in 1998 and 65 in 1999) and Sammy Sosa (64 in 2001 and 63 in 2001) have hit more home runs in a single season. Of course, Bonds, McGwire and Sosa hit their marks during the steroids era.
“It’s unreal. It’s amazing to watch and … we get to see all the internal stuff and all the behind the scenes work. He hit 60 tonight and it’s like nothing happened. He’s got more work to do,” said Stanton, who was the last major leaguer to reach the 59-home run mark. “And that’s the mindset and that’s how it will always be and this is fun to be a part of.”
Judge leads the majors with his 60 homers, the next closest is Kyle Schwarber with 40. The 60 home runs in 147 games are the most by a Yankee and the third most by any major leaguer. He’s hit three homers in his last two games and five in his last six.
That means that there might start to be a little bit of looking past Maris’ record of 61 and perhaps at the 73 hit by Barry Bonds in 2001.
“I think there’s no limit and there’s no jumping the gun,” Stanton said. “It’s one at-bat at a time, one pitch at a time. When he gets the next one, he’s gonna go on to the next one. The next step , the next at-bat, but as the distractions and everything else come to him that’s when he has to have more tunnel vision and just just be ready for what’s coming.”
Judge has handled this entire season with tunnel vision, from turning down an extension that would have paid him $230 million over the next eight years on Opening Day and betting on himself, to ignoring the historic numbers he is putting up. Going 1-for-4 Tuesday night, Judge’s batting average is at .316, the best in the American League. With his 128 RBI, he moved into position to win the first Triple Crown since Miguel Cabrera in 2012.
Still, Judge isn’t interested in numbers and curtain calls.
“I haven’t really been thinking about numbers or stats and stuff like that. I was just trying to go out there and help my team win and at the time, it was a solo shot in the ninth, still down by a couple of runs,” Judge said of not waiting to take the curtain call. “But this team we’ve always had a never-die attitude, you know, fight till the end and you got four guys right behind me with great at-bats one after the other against a great closer makes it that much sweeter that’s for sure.”