MILWAUKEE — Aaron Judge has played in every Yankee game since the beginning of last month — and the slugger who is chasing history isn’t likely to sit anytime soon. It’s not the chase for 61 that has the Bomber pushing, it’s winning the American League East and clinching their best playoff position.
“I feel like physically he’s in a really good spot,” manager Aaron Boone said Friday afternoon before the Bombers opened a three-game interleague series against the Brewers at American Family Field. “I hope we get to a point where I can give him a day. Having three off days and eight days is part of the equation, though and very beneficial, I think at this point.
“There were those couple of days where I was able to get you know, all DH for like three games in there, including the doubleheader, but I feel like he’s doing really well, physically really, as good as he’s been at any time at this point in the season,” Boone continued. “So it’s something I’ll continue to be mindful of and watch. Like I said, hopefully we get to a point from a victory standpoint that I can give him a day.
“Right now it’s pedal down.”
The Yankees went into Friday night’s game with a magic number of 13 to win the division and seven to clinch a playoff spot. Judge went into Friday night’s game with a major league-leading 57 home runs, four shy of the American League record of 61 set by Roger Maris in 1961.
Already, Judge is making this a special season. His 57 homers are already the fourth most by a Yankee in a single season, trailing only Maris’ 61 and Babe Ruth’s 60 in 1927 and 59 in 1921. He is just the 12th player in the history of the big leagues to hit at least 57 homers and just the third in the majors over the last 20 years to hit 57 in a single season.
But it’s just kind of come to be expected anymore by those around him.
“I think I’ve ceased being amazed,” Boone said. “So it’s a remarkable season for a remarkable player. But anything that he does I don’t think it’s amazing to me anymore.”
That’s because everyone, including those here in Milwaukee are expecting history. Before the Yankees came into town, the Brewers’ grounds crew were reminded multiple times, including in a memo, that Judge is on the precipice of history and that if he were to hit No. 61 or 62 at American Family Field that ball would be an important part of the story.
The memo told staff that the Yankees’ experienced security staff would be in charge of tracking down the ball.
Judge is on pace to hit 65 homers, which would smash the American League record and bring him tantalizingly close to more recent and tainted history.
With his 57 homers, Judge is the first Yankee and just the fourth major leaguer to hit at least 57 homers in the clubs first 143 games, joining Barry Bonds (60 in 2001), Mark McGwire (60 in 1998) and Sammy Sosa (59 in 1999 and 58 in 1998). Bonds had 63 through 144 games.
And like Bonds, who Judge has said he considers the record holder with his 73 home runs even though it was tainted by the suspicion of PED use, the Yankees slugger is finding it harder and harder to get pitches to hit. He has been walked intentionally 16 times this season, just one of five Yankees to reach that mark in a single season, joining Mickey Mantle (23 in 1957 and 18 in 1964), Don Mattingly (18 in 1989), Bernie Williams (17 in 1999) and Robinson Canó (16 in 2013).
So Friday night, he was back at the top of the lineup, where Boone hoped the Brewers would have to pitch to him.
“I mean, he’s leading off the game. I think they’re gonna pitch to him,” Boone said. “Yeah. I mean, I’m sure there’s a situation where a base is open and [Judge] can beat him, I’m sure a lot of teams are gonna walk him in those spots.
“I am trying to get him in a position where, yeah, they gotta go after him a little bit more,” Boone added. “That’s part of it.”