Over the course of Aaron Judge's historic season and recent home run chase, the outfielder has rarely shown emotion.
Judge will go about his business, send projectiles into orbit as only a few on this planet can, put his head down and run the bases, only truly celebrating when his actions between the lines come in clutch moments.
The same can be said about the bad times. There haven't been many slumps for New York's superstar slugger, but when he has struggled—striking out three times in a game or failing to come up with a big hit when his team needs it most—he returns to the Yankees' dugout and beyond a grimace or a head shake, the 30-year-old almost never reacts in a negative manner.
That changed on Tuesday in Arlington.
With three games remaining in the regular season, Judge continued to sit on 61 home runs, tied with Yankees great Roger Maris for the most in a single season in American League history. After popping out in the fifth inning, in Game 1 of Tuesday's doubleheader against the Rangers at Globe Life Field, Judge descended into the third-base dugout, walked into the corner and slammed his helmet.
It wasn't a Paul O'Neill water cooler outburst. It wasn't Brett Gardner banging the roof of the dugout over and over with his bat. It was a quick, uncharacteristic flash of frustration from a stud that's been remarkably unfazed throughout one of the most historic seasons in baseball history.
"I was frustrated because I wasn't helping the team out," Judge told reporters, looking back at that moment later on Tuesday night. "I had a couple bad at-bats, swinging at some bad pitches, missing my pitch. So I was upset since I was the leadoff guy, I gotta get on base. I hadn't been doing that."
Judge's opportunity to connect on a record-setting home run was slipping away. By the end of Game 1 on Tuesday, Judge had been held to one homer (No. 61 on Sept. 28 in Toronto) in his previous 58 plate appearances. He had two games left to stand alone atop the AL home run leaderboard, becoming the fourth player in big-league history to reach 62 in a single campaign.
So, as Judge stepped up to the plate to begin the nightcap of Tuesday's twin bill, he dug into the batter's box once again with a chance to make history. As had been the case for weeks, fans rose to their feet in unison. They chanted M-V-P, holding up their cameras in hopes of witnessing history, reacting to each and every pitch.
This time, in his 24th opportunity to hit his 62nd home run of the year, Judge delivered. He devoured a mistake from Rangers right-hander Jesus Tinoco, swatting a 391-foot solo shot over the wall in left and into the glove of a fan standing in the front row of the bleachers.
Remember, that pop fly in Game 1? That came on a hanging slider right down the middle. Several hours later, a different Rangers right-hander threw the exact same pitch.
This time, Judge didn't miss it.
With a gigantic grin, Judge made his way around the bases, finding his family in the stands and pointing the sky as he approached home plate. He then embraced each of his teammates, soaking in the moment with a captivated crowd that kept on cheering.
Of all the emotions that swirled through the slugger's mind during that moment, there was an overwhelming pang of relief.
He had done it.
"It's a big relief," Judge said. "I think everybody can finally sit down in their seats and watch the ballgame. It's been a bit of fun ride so far, getting a chance to do this with the team we've got, the guys surrounding me, you have the constant support from my family who's been with me there through this whole thing. It's been a great honor."
Judge dove deeper, explaining that the comfort in ending this home run circus was rooted in those around him. Sure, he was aware of the season coming to a close, admitting that games had started to speed up on him over the last few weeks, but getting No. 62 out of the way meant he was no longer letting fans, family and friends down.
"I kind of felt bad for my teammates because every single at-bat, I've got teammates on top of the step waiting for me to do this," Judge said. "I'd hit a double or I'd walk or I'd do something, I kind of felt like I was letting them down. Even the fans, all the fans that packed Yankee Stadium, the fans that came here these past two games, I felt like I let them down if I had a 2-for-4 game or a 1-for-2 game with a couple of walks."
It's true. Fans had been booing lustily whenever Judge stayed in the yard. Any pitch outside of the zone was a catalyst for a loathsome reaction. On the flip side, Yankees fans unabashedly rooted for the Red Sox to tie the game in the ninth inning at Yankee Stadium last month, hoping to watch No. 99 swing for the fences one more time.
Judge's manager Aaron Boone had picked up on the pressure that was building as well.
“I think it was weighing on him,” Boone told reporters on Tuesday. “Not heavily, but I think he was carrying it around every day. It’s kind of madness and this anticipation and he knows his teammates want to see him get it done, so I’m sure on some level, that weighs on him.”
As his skipper had previously stated this season, however, Judge continued to handle this phenomenon in "perfect" fashion, staying consistent and resolute. On Tuesday, that meant finding solace in a challenging matchup to start the game, another chance to give his team an early lead, albeit in a contest that had zero impact on New York's seeding for the playoffs.
Blocking out the outside noise one more time, Judge said that learning who was starting for Texas—an opener in a bullpen game—helped him settle in and focus on the task at hand. Tinoco faced the minimum in an inning of work against the bottom of New York's lineup on Monday, flashing his 97-mph sinker and sharp slider.
"I think that kind of helped me relax like 'hey, this is a good pitcher. Let me just go up there and let's see what happens,'" he said. "I was able to get one over the heart of the plate and put a good swing on it."
A good swing, an exhale and a special end to what's been an unforgettable ride.
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