TORONTO (AP) — Aaron Judge had played seven games since his last home run, 34 appearances on the set of fans going silent and taking shots with every pitch.
Then, with the score tied in the seventh inning on Wednesday night, he drove a 94.5 mph lead to the left, a rocket ship no doubt. He had tied Roger Maris’ American League record of 61 home runs in a season, which many fans consider baseball’s “clean” standard for the sport.
Judge’s two-run homer lifted the Yankees to an 8-3 win over the Toronto Blue Jays and relieved the 6-foot-7 slugger, who admitted he had to try to block the distraction.
“To get a chance to sit at 60 with the Babe was nice,” he said, “but to get a chance to sit now at 61 with another Yankee right fielder who hit 61 homers and MVP , world champions, that’s pretty cool.”
Judge has seven games to break the record, starting with an opener against Baltimore at Yankee Stadium on Friday night.
His 117.4 mph drive from southpaw Tim Mayza (8-1) broke a 3-3 tie and took just 3.8 seconds to land 394 feet from the plate. The judge watched the ball snap in front of the stands, just below two fans who leaned over a railing and tried to catch it. He pumped an arm just before reaching first and exchanged a slap in the face with trainer Travis Chapman.
“Certainly some relief to get to 61. You try not to think about it, but it’s stuck in your head,” Judge said. “I was hoping he’d get over the fence. I didn’t know at first. I didn’t want to be at home plate when he hit the wall. »
The ball fell into the Toronto bullpen and was picked up by Blue Jays bullpen coach Matt Buschmann. He and Jordan Romano, closer to Toronto, held onto the ball before handing it to Yankees reliever Zack Britton, who made sure it got to the judge.
“We just wanted to put it in good hands,” Romano said, prompting the judge to call it “an elegant gesture.”
Judge’s mother, Patty, and Roger Maris Jr. stood and hugged from the front row seats. The judge appeared to point at them after rounding second base.
“She’s been with me through it all, for sure,” Judge said. “Since the Little League days, getting me ready for school, taking me to my first practices and games, being there for my first pro game, being there for my debut, and now ‘to have the chance to be here for this is so special. We’re not done yet.”
Judge was congratulated by the entire Yankees team, who gave him hugs after he crossed home plate.
“He’s as loved as he gets,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said. “I think everyone is so excited for him.”
Judge topped the 60 homers hit by Babe Ruth in 1927, which was the major league mark until Maris broke it in 1961. All three stars hit those huge numbers while playing for the Yankees.
Maris hit No. 61 for the Yankees on October 1, 1961 against Boston pitcher Tracy Stallard. Maris’ mark was exceeded six times, but all were marred by the stench of steroids. Mark McGwire hit 70 homers in 1998 and 65 the following year, and Bonds topped him with 73 in 2001. Sammy Sosa had 66, 65 and 63 in a four-season stretch from 1998.
McGwire admitted to using banned steroids, while Bonds and Sosa denied knowingly using performance-enhancing drugs. Major League Baseball began testing with penalties for PEDs in 2004.
“He should be revered for being the true one-season home run champion. It’s really who he is if he gets to 62,” Maris Jr. said. “I think baseball needs to look at the records. And I think baseball should do something about it.
Judge is hitting .313 with 130 RBIs, also the best totals in the AL. He has a shot at becoming the first AL Triple Crown winner since Detroit’s Miguel Cabrera in 2012.
Fans fixed on him in the Bronx during the last homestand.
“It’s tough at Yankee Stadium sometimes, of course, when you have 45,000 people standing for each field,” Judge said. “You hear the noise. You hear the buzz. But when I step out onto this pitch, when I step into the club, all the hype, all the noise, it just goes away and you have to focus on the competition.
He became the fifth player to hold a share of the AL season record. Nap Lajoie hit 14 in the AL’s first major league season in 1901, and Philadelphia Athletics teammate Socks Seabold hit 16 the following year, a mark that lasted until that Babe Ruth reached 29 in 1919. Ruth set the record four times in all, with 54 in 1920, 59 in 1921, and 60 in 1927, a mark that lasted until Maris’ 61 in 1961.
Maris was 35 in July 1961 during the first season, each team’s schedule was increased from 154 games to 162, and baseball commissioner Ford Frick ruled that if anyone beat Ruth in more than 154 games, ” there would have to be a distinctive mark in the record books to show that Babe Ruth’s record was set with a schedule of 154 games.
This “distinguishing mark” became known as the “asterisk” and it remained until September 4, 1991, when a Committee on Statistical Accuracy chaired by Commissioner Fay Vincent voted unanimously to recognize Maris as the record holder.
After the game, plate umpire Brian O’Nora presented the lineup card to the judge. The judge is unsure what he will give to the Hall of Fame.
“They took my home run bat in my first game and I fell into a massive meltdown after that,” he said, “so I don’t know if I’m going to give them anything just yet. “
Judge and Maris Jr. first met outside the Yankees clubhouse after the game. Maris Jr. has attended every game since Judge reached No. 60 on Sept. 20.
“It’s my ninth day here,” Maris Jr. said. I think, OK, we’ll go to Yankee Stadium and he’ll probably hit 62 on October 1, when dad hit his 61st.
AP Baseball Writer Ronald Blum contributed to this report.
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