Sixty-one years ago, within the one hundred and thirty fifth game on the Yankees’ schedule, Roger Maris blasted his 52nd and 53rd home runs of the season. The primary one got here off the Detroit Tigers’ Frank Lary, who was widely often called “The Yankee Killer” for someway mastering the most effective lineup of the era.
“I got a belt out of each homers,” Maris said after the sport, as quoted by The Detroit Free Press. “But especially on Frank Lary’s. He’s got me out loads of times.”
For Maris that September, the competition hardly mattered. Sixty-one years later, it is identical for Aaron Judge. Facing the Minnesota Twins on Monday, within the Yankees’ one hundred and thirty fifth game, he hooked his 54th homer just contained in the left field foul pole to lift the Yankees to a 5-2 victory. Judge is ahead of Maris’s pace, heading in the right direction to interrupt the American League record of 61 home runs in a season, overpowering everyone in his path.
Judge has homered this season off Max Scherzer, a three-time winner of the Cy Young Award. He has homered off Shohei Ohtani, the reigning winner of the A.L. Most Precious Player Award. He has homered off Shane McClanahan, the A.L.’s starter within the All-Star Game.
It was all but guaranteed, then, that Judge would connect against Minnesota. Within the last 20 years the Twins have been the anti-Frank Lary: They almost all the time lose to the Yankees. That is baseball’s biggest mismatch, with the Yankees going a frightful 112-39 against Minnesota, playoffs included, since 2002.
Two first-year Twins, Chris Archer and Trevor Megill, took their turns allowing 109-mile-an-hour lasers to Judge on Monday. The primary was a double off Archer in the primary, and the following was a go-ahead two-run homer on a dangling slider within the sixth. Judge walked in between.
“Especially when guys don’t need to pitch to him and he’s still capable of do this, that’s what makes it so impressive,” said shortstop Isiah Kiner-Falefa, who also homered on Monday. “He’s not on the market just swinging at every little thing. He gets one or two pitches a game, and that’s all he sees.”
From the fifth inning last Wednesday until the third inning Monday, Judge was the one Yankee to attain a run. On Monday the Yankees played without Andrew Benintendi (wrist), DJ LeMahieu (toe) and Anthony Rizzo (back), then lost Giancarlo Stanton after three at-bats when he fouled a ball off his foot. Judge just keeps slugging, with homers in each of his last three games and five of his last seven.
“You’ve got to post day-after-day — if guys are there, if guys will not be there,” Judge said. “If the conventional crew we had in April’s there or not, it really doesn’t matter. I’ve still got to go up there and do my best for 4 or five at-bats and play my heart out on defense.”
The Yankees’ division lead, which stood at 15½ games on July 8, dwindled to 4 over the weekend. But LeMahieu, Rizzo and Stanton remain on the energetic roster, and Benintendi could have surgery on Tuesday but could still return this season. The Yankees can separate themselves on this home stand against the pushover Twins (sorry, but facts are facts) and division-rival Tampa Bay.
The playoff push is all that matters, Judge insists; pursuing Maris is sort of incidental. Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa and Barry Bonds all topped 61 homers between 1998 and 2001 (with Bonds holding the record at 73 in 2001), but baseball didn’t test for steroids then. The 61 mark has deep historical resonance, and it’d take an approach like Judge’s to succeed in it.
“It’s just not necessary to me,” he said. “What’s necessary to me is winning — winning this division, first off, and putting our team in a very good position going into the postseason. It’s not all about me, irrespective of what happens. One guy can’t win or lose you a ballgame. All those accolades, all of the records, stuff like that, that’s off-season talk.”
For Judge, possibly, but not for everybody. Manager Aaron Boone is keenly attuned to the house run chase, he said, especially because no other player is hitting like this.
“I feel while you put it up with the context of where the league’s at — who’s the following guy within the American League, Yordan, with 31 homers?” Boone said, referring to Houston’s Yordan Alvarez, who indeed ranked second within the A.L. with 31 home runs before Monday. “I mean, that’s amazing.”
Judge, after all, began the season by turning down the Yankees’ seven-year, $213.5 million contract offer — a fortune, clearly, but the typical annual salary ($30.5 million) wouldn’t have ranked among the many top 10 in the sport. Judge has proved his personal value while immersing himself within the team.
“He comes as much as us and talks pitching on a regular basis,” starter Jameson Taillon said. “If he gets out, he’s immediately rooting on the following guy. And it’s all real. It’s not like he’s doing it to say, ‘Take a look at me, I’m a very good team guy.’ He just genuinely is that invested in everybody.”
The Yankees haven’t had a losing record since 1992, the 12 months Judge was born, and he wants a championship attached to his legacy. But 61 or more homers this season would all but ensure something else for Judge: a spot beyond the outfield in Monument Park, similar to Maris.
“I don’t need to say anything too soon, but the way in which it’s going, he could possibly be out in center field in the future,” Kiner-Falefa said. “To have the ability to play with someone that has that honor, it’s something that you just’re going to recollect for the remainder of your life.”