ANAHEIM -- Aaron Judge has had a front-row view of the Shohei Ohtani experience this past week at Angel Stadium, prompting dugout chatter between teammates who have marveled at the Angels superstar’s mechanics at the plate. It will be no surprise if the single-season American League home run record is challenged this season.
That mark, of course, has belonged to Judge since last Oct. 4, when he belted his 62nd home run to eclipse a 61-year-old mark established by Yankees great Roger Maris. To hear Judge tell it, there is room for Ohtani at the top of the list.
“Records are meant to be broken,” Judge said on Wednesday. “It’s just a record. It’ll be exciting for the game if he went out there and got 63-plus. We’ll see what happens.”
Ohtani entered play on Wednesday with 35 homers, the most recent of which was slugged on Monday off the Yanks’ Michael King. Ohtani has been red-hot, batting .429 (12-for-28) with four homers and eight RBIs during a seven-game hitting streak.
“It’s incredible. It’s fun to watch,” Judge said. “I don’t like watching it in person, when he’s playing against us, doing what he’s doing, but it’s fun when you can turn on the TV and see that he’s throwing eight innings, striking out 10 and hitting two homers in a game.
“I’m excited what he’s done so far and looking forward to what else he does when we get out of town here.”
Judge, it should be noted, was approaching his 2022 pace when he crashed into the right-field wall at Dodger Stadium on June 3. Judge ran the bases for the first time since that injury on Wednesday, and he has been taking on-field batting practice in addition to performing light defensive work in the outfield.
While Judge’s numbers have frozen at 19 homers in 49 games -- remarkably, he still leads the team in homers and RBIs (40) – he would like to take another crack at 62 and beyond in future seasons.
“I’ve still got quite a few years left in this game,” Judge said. “If he breaks it, that’ll give me another opportunity to go out there and try to do something special. But I’m not really too focused on that right now. I’m always wishing him the best and always excited to see what he can accomplish, but I’m not too worried about the record right now.”
Ohtani has seemingly handled the increased attention with ease, and perhaps he would benefit from following Judge’s example. Last season, Judge kept his focus largely on helping the Yankees win games, whether it be on offense or defense. The pressure of the home run chase did not seem to leak in until he got into the high 50s.
“The most difficult thing for me was when I was close to 62,” Judge said. “I was leading off the game, and I’ve never led off a game where it’s completely silent and everybody’s standing like that. It was a shock to me, because I’m here to play a baseball game, and I’m not worried about a record. I wanted to go out there and help my team win.
“I led off a game against Pittsburgh and Boston with a double, and there was almost a sense that the fans were upset. I understand that they want to see history, so I think that was the toughest thing for me, trying to keep my focus. We still had a game to play.”
There is one aspect of Ohtani’s game that Judge would like to borrow, and it’s not on the pitching side.
“I like the way his lower half works,” Judge said. “I tried a little toe tap like he does. I was actually talking with [Anthony] Volpe during the game the other day, and I was like, ‘That’s what I wanted my toe tap to look like, what he does.’ I haven’t mastered that yet. I’ve still got a couple of more years.
“He does a good job; he stays through the baseball and he has power to all fields. When he comes to the plate, right now, you just don’t want to pitch to him.”