MILWAUKEE — About the only one who didn’t notice the delay was Aaron Judge. The Yankees slugger had already homered twice on Sunday and when he walked up in the ninth inning, home plate umpire Gabe Morales slipped back to the visitors’ dugout to switch out the balls.
On the cusp of 60 home runs, every ball that Judge swings at now will be numbered to be tracked by Major League Baseball. That makes it easier to authenticate it if or when he reaches the 61-year-old American League and Yankees record with 61 home runs. After hitting No. 58 in the third and No. 59 in the seventh in the Yankees’ 12-8 win over the Brewers at American Family Field, Judge is just two away from Roger Maris’ record of 61 set in 1961 with 16 games to play.
And he seems to be the only one not caught up in it.
“I understand there’s going to be a storyline for the next two weeks on who deserves the MVP, but this hasn’t been done in this era. Someone chasing 61 ... clean like this and no question marks on what’s going on in the game. So it’s really impressive. It’s really fun,” Anthony Rizzo said. “And I know there’s a debate about [Angels’ pitcher/slugger Shohei] Ohtani and whatnot but Judge, it’s just his season.
“He’s just having a special season.”
He’s having an amazing season all around.
He hit No. 58 in the third inning. In the seventh, Judge crushed a 1-2 slider off right-hander Luis Perdomo to left field. The 443-foot shot pulled the 30-year-old within one of Babe Ruth for second on the Yankees’ all-time single-season home run list. He is just the second big league player to reach 59 home runs in the last 20 years, joining Giancarlo Stanton, who hit 59 in 2017 with the Marlins.
He is the first Yankee and just the third major league player to hit at least 59 home runs through his club’s first 146 team games, joining Barry Bonds (63 in 2001), Mark McGwire (62 in 1998) and Sammy Sosa (59 in 1999). Those all came with the taint of MLB’s steroid era hanging over their accomplishments, including when Bonds hit 73 in 2001.
There has not been the buzz of excitement around a record chase in baseball since those days. There was a taste of it when he hit the 50-homer mark and it started back up again on Sunday.
“I think you can’t help but notice them changing out balls and stuff now before he goes up to bat. I mean he hit one to right field today as far as he can hit it, and the other [one] pretty much then as far as he can hit it to left,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said. “And then it’s like they pitch to him there with the lead and he smokes a double, I mean it’s fun to watch.”
Judge had been held without a home run for three straight games. He had flown out in the first inning. In the third, he went down and got a 92 mph sinker from Brewers right-hander Jason Alexander and shot it into the second deck of right field. The home run was an estimated 414 feet, according to StatCast.
Judge went 4-for-5 with a walk, double, four RBI and three runs scored Sunday. He extended his hitting streak to a season-high nine games and raised his batting average to .316, third in the American League, and his season RBI total to a major league-leading 127. That makes him a legitimate threat to win the first Triple Crown since Miguel Cabrera in 2012.
“I think sometimes I take it for granted, but it’s so good. It’s so good, what he’s doing and just the ability to not get caught up in it,” Boone said. “He keeps it really simple.”
Judge has been coy when asked about the home run chase all season, saying he will reflect on it in the offseason.
“It’s all noise,” Judge said. “I just got a job to do on the field and I’m focused on doing that. It’s got a long way to go. We still have quite a few games left this month and playoffs ahead of us so I’m staying locked in on that.”