It was one of those nights, the kind that reminds you of the fundamental rule of the last baseball century: There are the Yankees, and then there is everyone else. From sepia tones to high definition, no other team does history, then or now, with such grandeur and resonance.
In the ninth inning on Tuesday in the Bronx, Aaron Judge became the third player in American League history to reach 60 home runs in a season. The others were also Yankees: Babe Ruth in 1927 and Roger Maris in 1961, and both had slugging teammates pushing them along. For Ruth it was Lou Gehrig, for Maris it was Mickey Mantle.
So what else could have followed Judge’s 60th homer but a game-ending grand slam by Giancarlo Stanton, later that inning, to beat the Pittsburgh Pirates, 9-8? No other active slugger can relate to Judge quite like Stanton, who once belted 59 homers in a season for Miami. It had to be Stanton to cap a night like this, with a screaming low liner into the left-field seats.
“That’s a signature Giancarlo Stanton, 10-foot laser to the outfield,” Judge said, admiringly, in the interview room later. “I had a good front-row seat for that one. I think the whole team lost its mind.”
Judge led the charge from the dugout to greet Stanton at the plate. Judge’s pursuit of the A.L. record — 61, by Maris — is a personal achievement in a team game. Ruth and Maris finished their gilded seasons with championships, and Judge has never played in the World Series. He is not basking in his stat line.
“He hit 60 tonight, and it’s like nothing happened,” Stanton said. “He’s got more work to do. That’s the mind-set. That’s how it’ll always be.”
Whatever awaits the Yankees, who lead Toronto by five and a half games in the A.L. East, Judge will always have a place in the 60-home run club, a pinstriped-only party of three — the A.L. version, anyway. Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa got there too, in the National League, right before baseball started testing for steroids.
McGwire and Sosa zipped past Maris in 1998. They both topped 61 again the next season, and Bonds set the record with 73 homers in 2001. Before all that, Yankees Manager Aaron Boone said, 60 had an unmistakable aura. Judge has not only revived it, but he has done so with no meaningful competition.
“I go back to him doing it in this season, the context of this season,” Boone said, noting that Philadelphia’s Kyle Schwarber has the next-highest home run total in 2022. “He’s got 40. He’s second. I mean, it’s unbelievable, 60 to 40. When I was playing, guys were routinely hitting in the 50s and 40s, bunched up in there. It ain’t happening now.
“And to be that far ahead of the field and be getting on base at the level he is, pushing for a batting title, playing the kind of all-around game that he is — in a disappointing night to that point, I tried to drink that in. I kept seeing ‘60’ on the board as he’s running around the bases. It’s hard for me to grip.”
Judge — who took a quick curtain call, mainly to keep the game moving — finished the night as the A.L. leader in each triple crown category, with a .316 average and 128 runs batted in to go with the 60 homers. Only two Yankees (Gehrig and Mantle) have won a triple crown.
For a player chasing milestones, Judge seems to be playing remarkably pressure-free. He launched his 58th and 59th homers on Sunday in Milwaukee, then got to 60 in his very next game. When Stanton hit his 59 homers, in 2017, he finished the season without connecting in his final three games.
“How did I deal with it? By not getting it,” Stanton said. “Obviously you can’t run from it, you can’t hide from it. You can tell in the stadium, you can tell their pitcher doesn’t want to be the one to give it up. So that’s all extra distractions, outside noise. You’ve got to be able to compress all that and still stay in your zone.”
Judge did that against Wil Crowe, a Pirates reliever and a great-great-nephew of Red Ruffing, a Hall of Fame Yankees pitcher with a plaque in Monument Park. Crowe challenged Judge with a 3-1 sinker at 94 miles an hour, and Judge blasted it 430 feet into the left-field bleachers.
Michael Kessler, 20, a pitcher and outfielder for the baseball team at City College of New York, snagged the ball on a bounce and returned it to Judge. He met Judge and got four autographed baseballs and an autographed bat.
Judge smiled when asked what he had thought after hitting the homer; he had struck out with the bases loaded earlier in the game, and even with his homer, the Yankees still trailed by three runs.
“Man, you idiot,” Judge said he thought to himself. “You should have done this a little earlier.”
In a historical context, though, Judge is plenty early. Ruth reached 60 in the Yankees’ 154th game in 1927, and Maris got there in their 159th game in 1961. Tuesday was only the 147th game for Judge’s Yankees — but he may be having too much fun to process his lofty place in team history.
“Getting a chance to play baseball at Yankee Stadium with a packed house and a first-place team, that’s what you dream about,” Judge said. “I love every second of it.”