Judge hits 50th HR, keeps pace to top Maris

August 30th, 2022

ANAHEIM -- More than 44,000 voices filled the air at Angel Stadium on Monday night, booing lustily as Aaron Judge received intentional walks in two of his first three plate appearances. They made no secret about what had drawn them across Interstate 5’s congested thoroughfare on a picture-perfect Southern California evening: history.

With a mighty eighth-inning swing, Judge delivered, connecting for his Major League-leading 50th home run.

Judge’s solo blast off Angels reliever Ryan Tepera trimmed the Yankees’ deficit to a run, but the comeback ended there, with the visitors accepting a 4-3 loss -- their third consecutive defeat.

“I’m not downplaying it, but I just don’t like talking numbers,” Judge said. “It doesn’t mean anything because we lost. We can talk about numbers and all that kind of stuff when the season’s over with; we can review it. But for right now, the most important thing for me is getting some wins.”

Fair enough, but 50 home runs in a single season is a remarkable achievement, one worthy of recognition. There are only three Yankees who have enjoyed multiple seasons of 50 or more homers, with Judge, who hit 52 as a rookie in 2017, now listed alongside Babe Ruth (1920, ’21, ’27, ’28) and Mickey Mantle (1956, ’61).

In addition, Judge is just the seventh player in AL/NL history to reach 50 homers before September. Sammy Sosa had three such seasons and Mark McGwire two, so it has happened 10 times. Judge is the first to do it since current teammate Giancarlo Stanton with the 2017 Marlins, and the first Yankee since Roger Maris (51) in 1961.

“I think he’s going to do something incredible. He already has,” Stanton said. “We’ve got a month more to watch. He’s going to help us get some wins, and we’ll be all right.”

The AL (and Yankees) record for home runs in a single season is 61, set by Maris in 1961. With 33 regular season games remaining, Judge is on pace to eclipse Maris with 63.

“At this point, I don’t think anything would really surprise me with him,” said reliever Clay Holmes. “Who knows? He could rattle off five in the next few games. I think he can do anything.”

This West Coast trip has already delivered hints of the media fuss dramatized by Billy Crystal’s 2001 film “61*” -- including a brief skirmish between a writer and a television camera operator, who elbowed for position in front of Judge’s locker on Monday. The attention only figures to increase as Judge draws nearer to Maris’ mark.

“It would be an honor,” Judge said. “Like I’ve said every single day, it would be an incredible honor to be mentioned with those guys, but I can’t speak on anything that hasn’t happened yet.”

Stanton said that he has been most impressed by Judge’s activity behind the scenes, taking place hours before the game, out of view from fans and television cameras.

“I watch him work every day, just seeing when he doesn’t feel his best,” Stanton said. “None of you guys are going to know that, but the guys who see him every day can tell. He’s still out there producing; he’s still out there showing up. I’d say that’s the biggest thing, besides the numbers.”

Judge’s 50th came three innings after the Angels’ Shohei Ohtani, likely his top competition for the AL MVP Award, hit his 29th of the season -- one of three long balls surrendered by Frankie Montas, who fell to 0-2 with a 7.01 ERA in five starts since being acquired by the Yankees before the Aug. 2 Trade Deadline.

Though Judge believed that his big blast signaled a comeback in the making, the Yanks were turned aside in the ninth, with rookie Oswaldo Cabrera’s deep fly ball caught on the warning track for the final out.

Boone was asked if, outcome aside, he could appreciate Judge and Ohtani clearing the fences in the same game.

"I mean, not really,” Boone replied. “Ohtani hit a big homer against us that hurt us. I certainly respect his talent and what he is to this sport. I have that respect and admiration for him and the way he goes about things, but I don't really get caught up in trying to appreciate the opponents -- especially when they're beating us."

So those fans, the same ones who howled and jeered as Judge received free passes in the third and fifth innings, filed for the exits -- perhaps not having seen their favorite team win, but thanks to Judge, they at least witnessed something worth remembering.

“I wish,” Judge said, “it could have been a little sweeter with a victory.”