CHICAGO — This was as close as it gets. Aaron Judge hammered two home runs on Sunday and the Yankees slugger came as close as he has to admitting that he is on the verge of breaking a historic, 61-year old record. The Bombers head back to the Bronx where Judge will have two games against the Pirates and four against Boston to reach Roger Maris’ American League — and Yankees franchise — record of 61 home runs.
The thought of matching or beating Maris’s record across the street from where it was set and in front of the Bleacher Creatures and the fans who have cheered him on since he broke into the big leagues at least made the stoic 30-year-old stop and smile for a minute.
“If it happens during a win, that would be great,” Judge said after hitting Nos. 58 and 59 in a 12-8 win over the Brewers at American Family Field. “That’s what I’m focused on. If I get a chance to do it at home, that would be great, too. But we’ll talk about it if that time ever comes.”
With 15 regular season games left and Judge putting together an all-around offensive season that has not been seen in over 20 years, it’s likely to happen sooner than later. He has shown an uncanny ability to block out the noise from outside even before he started hitting home runs this season. He stoically took on the Yankees this spring, turning down a contract extension that would have been worth over $230 million and betting on himself hitting the free agent market this winter.
He will already have a very gaudy resume when he does talk to “all 30 teams,” as he said he would after turning down the Bombers’ offer.
Not only does he lead MLB with 59 home runs — by a large margin — but his consistency this season has him within reach of winning the first Triple Crown since Miguel Cabrera in 2012. His .316 batting average is the third best in the American League and he leads the majors in 127.
The home run record would be an unbelievable bonus to an incredible season.
The Pirates pitching staff has given up 149 homers this season — including a grand slam to Judge in July — and the Red Sox staff has given up 155. Judge has hit four homers off Boston pitchers this season.
With the next home run Judge hits, whenever and wherever it is, he’ll become just the sixth player to reach 60 in a season, joining Yankees legends Babe Ruth and Maris as well as current MLB-record holder Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, who did it twice, and Sammy Sosa, who did it three times. Bonds, who hit 73, McGwire and Sosa, of course, are associated with the steroid allegations that hung over each of them.
Judge, who grew up about an hour from San Francisco where Bonds was demolishing the record set by Maris, does not discount what Bonds, McGwire and Sosa did. In fact, that home run race between McGwire and Sosa to get to the previously unattainable 61 was formative for Judge. That is what flamed his love for MLB and help him set his goals.
“You set personal goals, especially as a 10-year-old kid,” he said. “You have dreams and aspirations of what you want to try to accomplish in Major League Baseball if you ever get there, but never in your wildest dreams you think it will come true.”
Of course, Judge was careful about admitting what those goals were and are for him. He’s been determined to keep his personal goals personal as he chases the postseason success that has eluded him so far in his career.
“Yeah, make it to the big leagues, be an All-Star,” Judge said were some of the goals he set while watching Bonds all those years ago. And then he added the one that is driving him publicly this season. “The big one, win a championship, is still out there, but we’ve got some time for that. We’ve got a team that can do that, so hopefully we’ll check that one off the list.”