It was one of those evenings, the sort that brings to mind the basic rule that has governed baseball over the course of the last century: The Yankees are on a different level than the rest of the league. Nobody else brings the grandeur and resonance of history, whether it is in sepia tones or in high definition, and it holds true for any time period.
Aaron Judge became just the third player in the history of the American League to achieve 60 home runs in a season during the ninth inning of a game on Tuesday in the Bronx. The other two were both members of the New York Yankees: Babe Ruth in 1927 and Roger Maris in 1961. Both of these players had slugging teammates who helped propel them to victory. Maris was inspired by Lou Gehrig, whereas Ruth was inspired by Mickey Mantle.
What else could have possibly followed Judge’s 60th home run than Giancarlo Stanton’s game-ending grand slam later in that inning to defeat the Pittsburgh Pirates by a score of 9-8? Stanton, who once hit 59 home runs in a single season for Miami, is the only current slugger who can relate to Judge in the same way that Stanton can. It seemed inevitable that Stanton would put an exclamation point on a night like this by hitting a screaming low liner into the stands in left field.
Stanton was greeted by Judge, who led the rush out of the dugout to meet him at the plate. The chase by Judge of the American League mark of 61, held by Maris, is a personal accomplishment in the context of a team sport. While Ruth and Maris were able to cap off their golden seasons with titles, Judge was never even invited to compete in the World Series. He is not getting caught up in his stat line at all.
Judge will always have a seat in the 60-home run club, a pinstriped-only party of three — at least in the American League version of the club — no matter what the future holds for the Yankees, who now lead the Toronto Blue Jays in the American League East by five and a half games. In the National League, Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, and Sammy Sosa all reached that point just before baseball began testing for performance-enhancing drugs.
In 1998, McGwire and Sosa blew past Maris’s record for home runs. Both of them hit more than 61 home runs the next year, and in 2001, Barry Bonds broke the record with 73 of them. Before anything else, Yankees manager Aaron Boone stated that number 60 had an aura that could not be missed. Not only did Judge bring it back to life, but he did it in the absence of any significant competition.
Judge concluded the night as the American League leader in each of the categories that make up the triple crown. In addition to his 60 home runs, Judge also has a batting average of.316 and has driven in 128 runs. He had a brief curtain call, although this was mostly done to keep the game going along. Only two Yankees, Gehrig and Mantle, have ever won the Triple Crown for their respective leagues.
Judge seems to be playing with a wonderfully pressure-free demeanour, especially for a player who is pursuing milestones. On Sunday, he hit home runs 58 and 59 in Milwaukee, and then he reached home run number 60 in the very next game he played. In 2017, the year in which Stanton blasted 59 home runs, he completed the season without connecting in any of the final three games he played in.
This was done by Judge against Wil Crowe, a reliever for the Pirates. Crowe is a great-great-nephew of Red Ruffing, a Hall of Fame pitcher for the Yankees whose plaque is located at Monument Park. Crowe threw a 3-1 sinker at 94 miles per hour to Judge as a challenge, and Judge responded by launching it 430 feet into the left-field bleachers.
Michael Kessler, 20, a pitcher and outfielder for the City College of New York baseball team, caught the ball after it bounced and gave it back to Judge. Kessler is a sophomore at the college. After meeting Judge, he was given a signed bat and four baseballs to take home with him.
When asked what he had thought after hitting the home run, Judge flashed a grin. Earlier in the game, he had struck out with the bases loaded, and even with his home run, the Yankees were still down by three runs.
However, when seen in its proper historical perspective, Judge is really rather advanced. Ruth hit number 60 for the first time in the Yankees’ 154th game in 1927, while Maris did it in the 159th game of their 1961 season. Even though Judge and his Yankees played their 147th game on Tuesday, it’s possible that he’s having too much fun to fully appreciate his exalted position in the annals of the franchise.