It was the 10th walk-off win of the year for the Yankees, as the first three months of their season continue to rank with the greatest beginnings in Yankees history. They came out of Sunday with a 53-20 record, the best in baseball, 11 games ahead of the Red Sox in the AL East. Three Astros pitchers had combined to no-hit them on Saturday, and then the Yankees were hitless into the seventh on Sunday before they came back, again.
So much of this has been built around Judge, who once hit 52 home runs as a rookie and now is on pace to hit more. So he hit one Sunday and brought more magic to this Yankees season. And has brought the possibility of what was once the game’s most magical number back into play:
You better believe Judge is on pace to make it to 60 homers this season (62 as of this writing), a number no slugger has chased seriously since Giancarlo Stanton was a Marlin and got to 59 in 2017. What Judge can do over the second half of the season if he is blessed with good health is try to get to 60 at the new Yankee Stadium, across the street from the old one, where Babe Ruth first made the number 60 matter in baseball. That was long before a group of sluggers around the turn of this century blew past that mark under a cloud of performance-enhancing drugs.
This is different. This is about Judge giving himself this kind of chance, before he even gets to July, of doing something Ruthian as a Yankee at Yankee Stadium. The Babe hit 60 (in a 154-game season) back in 1927, after coming close with 59 in 1921. And then that number stood the test of time and the ages until the home run summer of ’61, when Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle both chased The Babe into September, with Maris finally getting to 61 in a 162-game season and Mickey finishing second to Maris with 54.
Much, much later came Barry Bonds and Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa, taking their baseball bats to the record books and chipping away at the luster of 60 one homer at a time. Over the past quarter-century, there have been a handful of other players who got past 55:
Junior Griffey did it twice, in 1997 and '98. Luis Gonzalez, out of nowhere, got to 57 for the D-backs in ’01, Alex Rodriguez hit 57 in ’02 and Ryan Howard got to 58 for the Phillies four years later. Finally, there was Stanton with the Marlins, getting to 59.
Even then, there was more attention paid to Judge’s rookie home run season in New York, going past 50 the way he did. Now here he comes again, on pace to become the first Yankee to do what only Maris and Ruth have done as Yankees. In so many ways this season, Judge has made himself into the kind of larger-than-life character that The Babe was, the big man making himself such big fun to watch.
He was all of that again on Sunday, putting one into the left-field seats and turning a 3-3 game into another stirring Yankees victory. When it was over, and he had risen to another moment, here is one of the things All Rise Judge had to say:
“When I walk up to the plate, there’s no fear. It makes it fun every single night.”
No. 99 seemed to have fallen into a mini-slump against the Astros. He got two hits in the first game of the Astros-Yankees series, then was 0-for-4 on Friday, 0-for-4 on Saturday. He was 0-for-3 Sunday until he came to the plate with two on and two outs against Seth Martinez. Then it just took one swing for him to change the day and really change the weekend for the Yankees, and he had hit No. 28 in the Yankees’ 73rd game, with 89 left to play.
He remains the most exciting at-bat in the sport. We know what the Stadium feels like and sounds like when he is coming to the plate in an important moment. Judge himself described the moment this way:
“You feel it pre-pitch, walking up to the plate. They’re playing the walk-up song and the crowd is getting crazy. But once you get in the box, dig in and take a deep breath, it doesn’t go silent. But you lock it in.”
His walk-up song comes from Pop Smoke. Called “Hello.” He heard it Sunday before he kissed another one goodbye. Another magic moment. Magic number -- 60 -- very much in play again at Yankee Stadium.