Tuesday, September 20, 2022

Judge's Historic Blast Sparks Yankees Rally

Aaron Judge connecting on home run #60. Photo by Jason Schott.


Yankees Manager Aaron Boone's pregame press conference on Tuesday afternoon, ahead of their game with the Pittsburgh Pirates, had the air of a playoff game, as there was a buzz about Aaron Judge entering the night with 59 home runs, two away from tying Roger Maris’ Yankee and American League-record of 61.

Boone was asked about what he expected the atmosphere at Yankee Stadium to be like this week, and he said, “I would imagine it’s going to be special out there. We’ve had a lot of, I feel like, special regular season games this year with different things we’ve gone through and some different victories and different rivalry games that have gone on. I would imagine this week is going to be pretty electric at The Stadium, considering where we are in the season from a team standpoint, what we’re playing for, and obviously with Aaron and knocking on the door of history.”

On if Judge’s demeanor is any different as he gets closer to the record, Boone said it’s the “same. I keep saying it over and over, Aaron Judge, I just, everyone should just watch and take notice, and I can say that because he’s lived it and shown it, like he puts his focus on being a great teammate and winning, and he knows everything else will take care of itself because he’s a good player. When you have that simple of a focus, and that’s your genuine focus. not your states focus, but I’ve seen him like that since I came here in 2018, and when you keep things like that, it doesn’t allow for great moments or historical things to affect what you’re doing, and he’s shown that over and over…

“I’m just super appreciative of my relationship with him, you know, he’s about the perfect guy to get to manage, so to have that front row seat of it, look our focus is obviously on winning and what’s at stake for us as a team, but within that to watch what he’s doing, you certainly realize what a special season you’re getting to witness.”

Little did Boone know what he and the 40,157 in attendance at Yankee Stadium would witness on Tuesday night.

The Yankees were trailing 8-4 entering the bottom of the ninth, with Judge, who was 0-for-3 with a walk to that point, leading off.

The crowd, which anticipated his every at-bat, had the same excitement as he took the plate, with everyone standing and cellphone cameras ready, sensing that this could be the perfect moment for him to make history.

On a 3-1 count, Judge took the offering from Pirates pitcher Wil Crowe and launched it way back into the bleachers in left field for #60. 

Judge is now the third Yankee to reach that exclusive plateau, tying Babe Ruth, who hit 60 in 1927, and Maris' 61 in 1961. Maris' 61 is still the American League record as well, so Judge is two away from setting that as well. 

The Yankees outfielder is now the sixth player in Major League Baseball history to hit at least 60, joining Ruth, Maris, Barry Bonds (73 in 2001 with the San Francisco Giants), Mark McGwire (70 in 1998 and 65 in 1999 with the St. Louis Cardinals), and Sammy Sosa (66 in 1998, 63 in 1999, and 64 in 2001 with the Chicago Cubs).

Judge said in his postgame press conference of what 60 means to him, "It's tough to say because I don't think about it, I don't think about the numbers, and you talk about Ruth and Maris and (Mickey) Mantle, all these Yankees greats, and you know, did so many great things in this game, you never imagine as a kid being mentioned with them, but it's an incredible honor, something I don't take lightly at all, but we're not done, we've still got a couple games left in this season, and you know, hopefully a couple more wins come with it."

Aaron Judge in his press conference after the game. Photo by Jason Schott.

The crowd kept on cheering after Judge returned to the dugout, and he took a curtain call. "The whole team and then Boonie, I think" convinced him to do it. "I really didn't want to do it, you know, especially, we're losing, it's a solo shot, I was more focused on getting ready to watch (Anthony) Rizzo's at-bat and see what he does, but I kind of joked around with Matt Carpenter earlier in the year, I think he had two homers in a game, or something like that, and he got a curtain call, and I was like, 'man, I've been here for six years, I've only got one curtain call, you know,' so I guess it takes hitting 60 to get another one.' A lot of the stuff I do, man, it's for those fans, you know, the fans that show up on a nightly basis, if we're winning, not winning, hanging with us all the way to the end. A lot of fans could have left and packed it in tonight, but they stayed and hung out with us,so they deserved to have that moment. That's one of the reasons why I do it." Judge revealed later in the press conference that his first curtain call was for when he set the rookie home run record in 2017.

Boone, in his postgame press conference, said 60 is "one of those sort of unreachable numbers, you know, and I go back to, I think, him doing it in this season, the context of this season, you know, when, I don't know if Kyle Schwarber homered tonight but I think he did, so he's got 40, he's second, right, (both were correct), I mean, it's unbelievable, 60 to 40, you know, when I was playing, guys were routinely hitting in the fifties, in the forties, and their bunched up in there, ain't happening now, and to be that far ahead of the field, and you know, and be getting on base at the level he is (.419 on-base percentage), pushing for a batting title (his average is .316), playing the kind of all-around game that he is (referring to him playing in center or right field every night), you know, in a disappointing night to that point, right, I tried to drink that in, and just, you know,, I kept seeing 60 on the board as he ran around the bases, it's hard for me to grip."

Boone brings up an interesting point about how far Judge is ahead of the competition because, when Ruth hit 60 in 1927, his teammate Lou Gehrig was next with 47, followed by Cy Williams and Hack Wilson, who each had 30.

Maris, of course, was neck and neck with Mickey Mantle in 1961 until Mantle suffered a hip injury, ending his season early with 54 home runs, leaving him to chase Ruth alone and hit his 61st home run on the last day of the season. After the M&M Boys, as they were known, on the home run list were Orlando Cepeda, Jim Gentile, and Harmon Killebrew, who each had 46.

The historic Judge home run sparked a Yankee rally to comeback and win the game.

Anthony Rizzo hit a double up the center field gap, Gleyber Torres drew a walk, and Josh Donaldson dunked one into center field, just in front of Pirates center fielder Bryan Reynolds to load the bases with none out.

As if on cue, the player often spoken off with Judge as the power source of the Bronx Bombers, Giancarlo Stanton, strode to the plate. Stanton was 0-for-3 with a walk and three strikeouts to that point, but that didn't seem to matter at all at this moment.

With the count 2-2, Crowe tried to slip an 89-mile-per-hour changeup by Stanton, and he launched a line drive into the left field seats for a grand slam. 

The Yankees streamed out of the dugout the second Stanton hit it, and The Stadium was in a frenzy as they scored five in the ninth to win it 9-8.

Giancarlo Stanton running between first and second as the Yankees were celebrating at home plate. Photo by Jason Schott.

The walk-off grand slam was the second of the season, as Donaldson hit one in the 10th inning to beat Tampa Bay on August 17th, and it was just the 11th in Yankees franchise history.

Judge said of his home run to spark the rally, "That's what I wanted to do, in the meantime I wasn't even thinking about numbers or stats or stuff like that, just wanted to go help my team win. At the time, it was a solo shot in the ninth, still down by a couple of runs, but this team, we've always had, you know, a never-die attitude and fight to the end, and you've got four guys behind me with great at-bats, one after the other against a great closer, and it makes it that much sweeter, that's for sure."

Boone said of #60 fueling a win, "I think that just adds a little bit to the magic of the moment. I think his selflessness showed up in that at-bat. You know, first pitch, probably a really good pitch to hit, and we're down four runs, and he is where he is (in the home run chase), I think he was just taking the strike, you know, just thinking 'I got to get on base' and ends up getting into a count and getting a pitch he could handle. I mean, I think there's something to be said for that kind of igniting, in a game we're down four runs, igniting a little bit of some kind of magical spark that kind of went on tonight in that inning, that was special."

The Yankees improved to 89-58 with the win, and maintain their 5 1/2 game lead in the American League East over the Toronto Blue Jays (84-64), who beat the Philadelphia Phillies, 18-11, in the American League East with two weeks to play. The magic number for the Yankees to clinch the division crown is now 10.

Boone said of Judge's home run sparking the team, "I think, obviously, you know, back and forth game, we lose the lead on a big homer there (Rodolfo Castro three-run home run in the eighth), and we're down there and up against it, so for Judgie to roll up there and hit 60, I think, kind of got the guys going. Curtain call, Rizz just took his time making sure he finished off that curtain call, and then was just really good at-bat after good at-bat by, you know, Rizzo, Gleyber working the walk, JD (Donaldson) just punching one the other way, and then I took a peek up there to see, because I've seen a lot of hard ones off G, I think they need to recalculate the 118 (miles per hour off the bat), that felt more like 130 - that ball was absolutely clobbered! Happy for G, obviously it's been a grind for him since working his way back."

Stanton had the most home runs in recent memory, as he hit 59 with the Miami Marlins in 2017, the year before he was traded to the Yankees. On how much being teammates with Stanton has helped him on his quest, Judge said, "I think getting a chance to get to know Big G and get a chance to pick his brain over the years has helped me mature as a player, you know, mature as a person as well, a guy that's been in the league since he was, I think, 19, 20 years old, he's seen it all, he's been through it all, he's been through the MVP race, won an MVP (in 2017), been through the seasons of hitting 30, 40, 50, 59 homers, been pitched around, he's seen it all, so to get a chance to have him in the lineup with me, work with him every day, pick his brain about approaches, how do you face these guys, what do you do against these guys, all it's done is just, I've tried to soak in everything he's told me, use it as best as I can, helped me grow as a player leaps and bounds these past couple of years."

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