Yankees' Judge hits 61st homer, ties Maris' record

Yankees’ Judge hits 61st homer, ties Maris’ record

TORONTO — New York Yankees star Aaron Judge hit his 61st home run of the season Wednesday night against the Toronto Blue Jays, tying Roger Maris’ American League record.

It took Maris until Oct. 1, the final game of the 1961 season, to hit his 61st, which broke Babe Ruth’s single-season mark of 60 home runs set in 1927.

Judge did it Sept. 28, in Game No. 155 for New York. A day after the Yankees clinched the American League East title, Judge, batting leadoff as the designated hitter, took Toronto’s Tim Mayza deep in the seventh inning with a runner on base. Judge — who walked in his first at-bat, popped out in his second and grounded out in his third — had gone seven games without a home run since managing a solo shot during New York’s 6-0 homestand.

He and the Yankees then headed to Toronto looking to make history at the Rogers Center. He went 1-for-3 with a single in the series opener Monday and walked four times in Tuesday’s division clincher, before ultimately launching the historic shot Wednesday in the Yankees’ 8-3 victory.

When he finished rounding the bases, his thrilled teammates left the dugout to greet him.

“It’s an incredible honor, getting a chance to be associated with one of the Yankee greats, one of baseball’s greats, words can’t describe it,” Judge said. “That’s one thing so special about the Yankees organization, is all the guys that came before us and kind of paved the way and played the game the right way, did things the right way, did a lot of great things in this game and getting a chance to be mentioned with those guys now is, I can’t even describe it, it’s an incredible honor that’s for sure.”

Home plate umpire Brian O’Nora, after the game, congratulated Judge just outside the Yankees dugout, and handed him the official lineup card from the night.

“When I hit it, I thought I got enough but it’s been a couple of games since I did that. So, you never really know if it was going to get out or, so, I tried to sprint around the bases a little bit then once it got over the fence, just relief that now we’re leading the game,” Judge said. “Getting a chance to tie Roger Maris, you dream about that kind of stuff, it’s unreal.”

The seven-game homerless drought was a rare case for the select few who’ve reached such home run heights. Of the previous seven instances in which a player hit 61 home runs, four had reached that mark the next game after hitting 60 and none went more than three games to reach the milestone.

Judge finally got there in the series finale, with Roger Maris Jr. and Judge’s mother, Patty, sitting front row on top of the Yankees dugout. And now, the only players in MLB history with more home runs in a season are Barry Bonds (73), Mark McGwire (70, 65) and Sammy Sosa (66, 64, 63) — all of whom accomplished theirs during the steroids era (1998 to 2001).

Maris Jr. confirmed in a postgame press conference that he will travel back to Yankee Stadium this week as Judge swings for No. 62.

“I don’t think it’s going to take very long,” he said. “I think he’s loose. I think the party last night, the celebration, loosened him up. … You can tell that he’s back, and he’s ready to go now.”

Judge’s 2022 tear has been done with zero evidence of performance-enhancing drugs used by the Yankees slugger, which manager Aaron Boone believes puts the All-Star outfielder’s numbers beyond those recorded by others.

“I think it puts it a notch above,” Boone said last week. “I got to believe it’s right there with some of the best very short list of all-time seasons. I go back to the context of the season, and the more I look at it and dive into it, it’s got to be an all – time great season.”

At one point, Judge’s torrid home run pace matched that of Bonds’ 2001 record-setting season, but with less than two weeks left of games, it will take a formidable surge for him now to approach that mark.

Maris’ 61 is considered by many to be the “clean” home run record. Judge, a Northern California native who has called Bonds “the greatest hitter of all time,” does not devalue his accomplishments.

“That’s the record,” said Judge, who graduated from Linden High School in San Joaquin County, about an hour and a half east of the San Francisco Bay. “I watched him do it. I stayed up late watching him do it. That’s the record. No one can take that from him.”

Bonds, for his part, said over the weekend that he could see Judge going on a home run streak after connecting on his 61st.

“Trying to get to that 61 is the hardest one,” Bonds said on the KayRod Cast on ESPN2 during Sunday Night Baseball. “Trying to get to that one. Once he gets to it, he’s probably going to hit five or six in a row after that. But trying to get to there, that’s the hardest one, that 61 is going to be the hardest. It’s a big moment on 61.”

The Yankees are hoping for more big moments next month. At times appearing as if they’d run away from the American League pack before stumbling through August, New York seems destined for the AL’s No. 2 postseason seed behind the Houston Astros. The division title was New York’s first since 2019, and 20th overall in franchise history.

Judge was a big reason for the crown, and it’s been more than just home runs. He entered Wednesday’s action leading the AL in batting average, home runs and RBIs as he looks to become the third Yankees player to win the Triple Crown (Lou Gehrig in 1934, Mickey Mantle in 1956).

Judge’s homer gave the Yankees a 5-3 lead, and they took a 6-3 edge in the bottom of the inning. The ball was retrieved by Blue Jays bullpen coach Matt Buschmann after it bounded into the Toronto bullpen.

“He’s clean. He’s a Yankee. He plays the game the right way,” Maris Jr. said. “And he gives people a chance to look at somebody who should be revered.”

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