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61 (and counting): Yankees slugger Aaron Judge ties American League home run record

USA TODAY SPORTS 9/29/2022 Pete Caldera, NorthJersey.com
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TORONTO – In his "season for the ages,'' New York Yankees slugger Aaron Judge reached a magical home run milestone indoors at the Rogers Centre.

Batting in Wednesday night's seventh inning, Judge launched his 61st home run of the year, a two-run shot to left off Blue Jays' lefty reliever Tim Mayza.

Judge's tie-breaking blast sent the Yankees toward an 8-3 victory before 37,008 fans.

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In Game 155, Judge moved past Babe Ruth and into a tie with Roger Maris, who set the single-season franchise record with 61 home runs in 1961.

With Roger Maris Jr. in attendance, Judge joined the late Maris for a share of the all-time American League record for homers in a season.

Judge belted a 3-2 sinker by Mayza, the eighth pitch of the at-bat, into the Blue Jays' bullpen where it was retrieved by a uniformed member of Toronto's staff.

“I was hoping it would get over the fence. I didn’t know at first. I didn’t want to be standing at home plate when it hits the wall,” Judge said. “It’s an incredible honor. There’ was a lot of emotions. It took me a little longer than I wanted to.”

Before he reached home plate, Yankees players and personnel were outside the visiting dugout to congratulate Judge, first embraced by Aaron Hicks who singled and scored on the milestone home run.

“That was pretty cool. I wasn’t expecting it,” Judge said.

The ball traveled an estimated 394 feet, with an exit velocity of 117.4 mph according to Statcast.

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Another single-season franchise record was tied Wednesday, as Gerrit Cole's four strikeouts gave him 248, matching Ron Guidry's club mark set in 1978.

Between home run No. 60 on Sept. 20, at Yankee Stadium, tying Ruth's mark in 1927, and No. 61, Judge made 34 plate appearances, going 5-for-21 (.238) with three doubles, 13 walks (one intentional), eight strikeouts and one 404-foot flyout to center.

"Definitely some relief, getting to 61,'' Judge said afterward. "You try not to think about it, but it creeps into your head.

"When I hit it, I thought I got enough. But it’s been a couple games since I did that.''

Serving as the Yanks' designated hitter, Judge walked, flied out and grounded out in his first three plate appearances Wednesday night. He walked four times in Tuesday's 5-2 Yankees win, which clinched the AL East title.

Aaron Judge tips his helmet towards his mother after hitting his 61st home run, which ties Roger Maris' franchise and American League record. © Nick Turchiaro, USA TODAY Sports Aaron Judge tips his helmet towards his mother after hitting his 61st home run, which ties Roger Maris' franchise and American League record.

In Monday's series opener, the Rogers Centre crowd initially greeted Judge with a healthy mix of cheers, and there has been a considerable amount of booing after each of his six walks this series – including one intentional pass.

But the atmosphere was nothing like the electric current that charged through Yankee Stadium last week.

During every Judge at-bat in the Bronx, fans stood during his entire plate appearance, aiming cellphone cameras toward home plate and chanting "M-V-P'' but going eerily silent just before each pitch.

"Everyone's on the edge of their seat (with) all their focus and energy'' Yankees manager Aaron Boone said then of the crowd's hush. "And that’s shown up in silence (by) 40-plus thousand people. Because you don’t want to miss something.''

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In 1961, Maris vaulted past Ruth for the Major League single-season record, which now belongs to Barry Bonds.

During his pressure-packed run toward Ruth's mark, Maris was subjected to critics who pointed to Ruth having set the MLB mark of 60 homers in a 154-game season as opposed to the modern 162-game schedule.

Bonds, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa were superstars during MLB's so-called Steroid Era, linked to the use of performance-enhancing drugs.

Now, Judge and Maris rank seventh for the most homers in single season. The list:

  1. Bonds: 73 (2001)
  2. McGwire: 70 (1998)
  3. Sosa: 66 (1998)
  4. McGwire: 65 (1999)
  5. Sosa: 64 (2001)
  6. Sosa: 63 (1999)
  7. Maris, Judge: 61 (1961, 2022)

"Getting a chance to sit at 60 for a while with the Babe was nice,'' Judge said. "Now to sit at 61 with another right fielder who hit 61 home runs, and won MVPs and world championships, it’s pretty cool.''  

Judge was speaking solely about the Yankees clinching an AL East title with a win Tuesday night and advancing toward the club’s first pennant since 2009.

The 6-foot-7, 282-pound Judge is also in direct pursuit of an American League Triple Crown, last accomplished by Detroit's Miguel Cabrera in 2012 and achieved just twice in Yankees history, by Lou Gehrig in 1934 and Mantle in 1956.

Judge finished Wednesday night's game fractionally leading the AL with a .313 batting average, just ahead of Minnesota's Luis Arraez, also at .313.  

"It's his season,'' said Anthony Rizzo, among several Yankees who believe Judge is the clear-cut AL MVP choice over the Los Angeles Angels' Shohei Ohtani, having another incredible year as a two-way All-Star, but on a team hopelessly out of contention.

"(Judge) is just having a special season.''

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Since Aug. 5, Judge has played in every Yankees game, and he has batted leadoff in each of the last 17 games.

"It started out as a need,'' Boone said of placing Judge atop a compromised lineup, due to injuries. "But as we've gotten whole here, it's continued to make sense.''

Boone recently dubbed Judge as having "a season for the ages,'' and the best offensive season the Yankees manager has personally witnessed.

"He's handled it perfectly,'' Boone said of the attention as Judge chased Maris' mark, in a free agent walk year that began with the slugger turning down a $213.5 million, seven-year contract extension.

"(Being) a great teammate'' and going "out there and trying to win'' have been Judge's stated goals all year.

"When that's your sincere focus, it helps keep the game simple,'' Boone said. "And he does a great job at that.''    

Contributing: Associated Press

This article originally appeared on NorthJersey.com: 61 (and counting): Yankees slugger Aaron Judge ties American League home run record

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