The day when Aaron Judge arrived at the threshold of 60, got to a home run place in New York sports history with No. 59 that has only ever been matched by two hitters — Babe Ruth, Roger Maris — made him the headliner on Sunday. The biggest story. Just not the only story. Even making more history the way he did, standing taller than ever over the rest of the home run crowd the way he has all season, even on the day when No. 99 got to 59, he was only a part of one of the great days we have had in New York sports in a very long time.
“I think we had a day like this a few years ago,” a friend of mine who works in sports said late Sunday afternoon, “but for the life of me I can’t remember when it was.”
Because while Judge was hitting two more against the Brewers the Giants were going to 2-0 at MetLife Stadium against the Carolina Panthers. And it wasn’t even the biggest moment in pro football in New York and Jersey, because all the Jets were doing in Cleveland was coming all the way back from 30-17 with 1:55 to go against the Browns at the end. They sure did come all the way back. Joe Willie Flacco (307 passing yards, four touchdown passes) threw two touchdown passes in 60 seconds of game time, with a recovered onside kick in the middle.
The way the Giants came back on the road to beat the Titans last Sunday was one of the best days they’ve had in a long time. The way the Jets came back on the road in Cleveland was one of the truly great football days they’ve had in a long time. After all the heartbreak Sundays over the past several years for the Jets, they finally had one of these crazy endings go their way.
About an hour after that, when Trevor May got the Mets their 20th strikeout of the day against the Pirates, the Mets had stayed ahead of the Braves with a 7-3 victory. It wasn’t easy, because hardly anything ever is for Buck Showalter’s Mets, even against friends from low places like the Pirates. This was an afternoon at Citi Field when first the Pirates came back from 0-3 to tie the game against Jacob deGrom, doing that after deGrom had struck out 13 in the first five innings. But then the Mets scored four in the eighth to get the sweep.
The Yankees didn’t get the best game out of their ace, Gerrit Cole. But they came from 1-4 down then hung on for dear life against the Brewers, avoiding the sweep in Milwaukee. The Mets didn’t ever lose the lead, even after Oneil Cruz took deGrom over the right field wall for a three-run homer. So the Mets held their slim lead against the Braves.
For this one pretty perfect September afternoon, the Yankees and Mets and Jets and Giants made everybody around here feel as if New York was exactly what we still want it to be, which means the capital of sports.
Two first-place baseball teams. An improbable comeback for the Jets even after some of their most loyal fans had given up on them when they were 13 down after the two-minute warning. Then there is this 2-0 start for the Giants. One-point win over the Titans. Three-point win over the Panthers. Another home game next week against the Cowboys and in chance to — improbably — go to 3-0 under rookie coach Brian Daboll, who continues to make some entrance, doesn’t he?
Again: The biggest news, even on a football day like this, was the big man, No. 99, and what he was doing against the Brewers, hitting two more out of sight, the last one measuring 443 feet. Getting to No. 59 in his 146th game. And by the way? We’re not measuring him against McGwire and Sosa and Bonds, at least not around here, thrilling to the chase to get to 60 and beyond. Around here, we’re measuring him against the magic of No. 60, and the standard Babe Ruth set when he was really inventing the home run in major league baseball back in the 1920s; when he was the one who was head and shoulders above everybody else the way Judge is this season.
No. We’re measuring Aaron Judge against the magic of the home run chase at Ruth that Maris and Mantle made in ‘61, 61 years ago, when Roger Maris finally tied Ruth and then broke his record against Tracy Stallard of the Red Sox at the old Stadium. It was Oct. 1, and a fan named Sal Durante caught that home run ball and, who knows, maybe Judge can get to 61 or 62 next weekend when the ‘22 Red Sox come to town.
Maybe next weekend might feel a little bit like this weekend finally did in New York sports. Maybe we’ll get another day like we got on Sunday. Judge and the Yankees and the Mets. Giants winning again and the Jets winning the way they did, what felt like a minor football miracle, except that it’s the Jets, so it felt like much more than that. On a lot of days, the Jets would have been the talk of the town. And felt like kings of New York. Not on this day.