Aaron Judge played beneath a truly unique spotlight during the Yankees’ last homestand.
After belting his 60th home run of the season at Yankee Stadium on Sept. 20 against the Pirates, fans followed his every move. The Bronx faithful, desperate to see Judge tie the American League and franchise records for home runs in a season, wanted No. 61 and nothing else. Anything less – including doubles or the countless walks issued by cautious pitchers – led to groans and boos. At one point, Boston manager Alex Cora found himself in disbelief, as Yankees fans rooted for the Red Sox to tie a game so that Judge could get an extra at-bat.
“It was kind of weird,” Cora said over the weekend, before the Yankees clinched the American League East. “The last inning, there was a section towards right field, they started chanting 'Let's Go Red Sox!' and it was a bunch of Yankee fans.”
Alas, Judge did not pull even with Roger Maris during New York’s last homestand, a six-game stretch from Sept. 20-25 that included five games after the outfielder’s 60th homer. Instead, Judge waited until Wednesday night to hit his 61st home run on the road in Toronto. The seventh-inning, two-run dinger broke a 3-3 tie in what became an 8-3 Yankees win.
The Rogers Centre crowd, which included Judge’s mom and Roger Maris Jr., acknowledged the moment with grace, but nothing comparable to the adulation that Yankee Stadium would have offered.
Judge, who admitted to feeling “relief” on Wednesday, certainly noticed the circus he created back in New York.
"I try not to look into it too much," Judge said. "It's tough at times. At Yankee Stadium, for sure, when you've got 45,000 standing on their feet for every pitch. But at the end of the day, when I look in the dugout and see my teammates and they're all locked in and ready to go, that's who I do it for."
But Judge has another opportunity to make history on his home turf, as New York starts a three-game series with the Orioles on Friday following an off day on Thursday. Longball No. 62, should he hit it, will give Judge sole possession of the A.L. and Yankees records and reset a benchmark number in baseball lore.
The blast will also give Judge another chance to celebrate with a hungry fanbase, as well as with teammates, while wearing pinstripes.
“He’s as beloved as they come. Everyone is just so excited for him, and I think it’s partly because of how Aaron is, but everyone feels a part of it,” manager Aaron Boone said of Judge’s peers. “That’s who he is as a teammate. That’s part of the reason guys are so excited, cause they feel like they’re a big part of it. That’s a tribute to him. So [it’s] pretty awesome, setting up now for just an amazing atmosphere, I’m sure again, in the Bronx starting Friday night. It’s a good script so far.”
The three games against Baltimore will be Judge’s final shots to hit a milestone home run at Yankee Stadium this year. Should he fail to take an Orioles pitcher deep, his chase will move to Texas, where the Yankees will wrap up their division-winning campaign against the Rangers with four games between Oct. 3 and Oct. 5.
After coming up short last week, Judge can give Yankees fans something to cheer for. But even after etching his name in the record books with an all-time season, he still doesn’t want to be the center of attention.
"I don't wanna try to make it about myself,” Judge said. “I want to make it about the team and what we're trying to accomplish here.”
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