NEW YORK -- Here’s a telling snapshot of Aaron Judge’s historic summer: As he stood in the center of the Yankees' clubhouse, the slugger was asked to ponder if he preferred making a leaping catch over the wall or hitting a grand slam to help win a game. Of course, he’d done both in the same night.
As he has for pretty much the entire season, Judge starred on both sides of the ball in Friday’s 11-5 victory over the Royals, helping out Gerrit Cole by bringing back a first-inning homer, then joining pinstriped royalty with his Major League-leading 40th and 41st home runs.
“Ooh, they’re close,” Judge said. “Robbing [a home run], you’ve got the crowd excitement, helping out a pitcher who’s working his butt off. It’s pretty cool. Then, you’ve got the same thing when you hit one, helping your team add some runs to the board. Hitting a homer is still above robbing one for me right now.”
The list of Yankees players who have hit at least 41 home runs by the end of July is short, sweet and legendary -- Babe Ruth hit 41 in 1928, and now Judge has done it, too, becoming one of eight players to achieve the feat in AL/NL history.
Barry Bonds (45 in 2001) and Mark McGwire (45 in 1998) hold the record for most homers by the end of July.
“I haven’t seen anything quite like this,” Cole said. “I wish I could have my phone on the bench like the rest of the fans, taking video of every one of his at-bats.”
Forty-one home runs before the end of July -- Yanks manager Aaron Boone said that he has found that “hard to process,” and he’s not alone.
Judge would prefer not to discuss it, but 61 remains a hallowed number, representing Roger Maris’ single-season mark established in 1961 -- still an American League record and seemingly within reach for Judge, who is on pace to hit 66.
“Like I’ve said a thousand times, I’m focused on winning baseball games right now,” Judge said. “The stats and stuff like that, we can talk about that at the end of the year.”
Tying his career high with a six-RBI performance -- powered by a two-run homer in the third inning off Kris Bubic and a grand slam off Jackson Kowar to cap New York's eight-run eighth -- Judge, the reigning American League Player of the Week, has hit 11 long balls in his past 13 games.
Judge’s nine multi-homer games are the most by a Yankees player in a single season. He's also the first player in AL/NL history to have that many multi-homer games before the end of July, as he appears to be the clear front-runner for the AL MVP Award.
“Whatever it is, nobody is better equipped to go through it and handle it than him,” Boone said. “I just want him to keep playing well and keep leading this team.”
Back to the first-inning catch: Judge raced toward the right-field wall, scaling a digital advertising board to take a leadoff homer away from MJ Melendez. Judge was reminded of an unsuccessful attempt during the 2020 AL Division Series vs. the Rays, resolving to complete his leap this time.
“That’s the first time he’s been able to rob that ball in that part of the park,” Cole said. “He was able to go up and make a fantastic play, and then he got cut up on the way down by the chain-link [fence]. I was pretty thankful that we made that play and he was able to come out of it clean. That was a jolt of energy.”
On a night when some fortunate soul may have struck for a billion-dollar Mega Millions jackpot, let’s take a moment to appreciate the wager that Judge placed back in April, when he turned down a seven-year, $213.5 million extension.
When fans have chanted “M-V-P!” after each highlight-reel contribution Judge makes with his glove or bat, it has essentially been a short-hand plea for the Yankees' front office to pay whatever it takes to keep Judge wearing pinstripes. That bet on himself? Judge is winning, big time.
“I know the questions came from Opening Day on. In my mind, I knew it wouldn’t be an issue,” Boone said. “I just know how comfortable and at home he is playing here, with this team, playing the game between the lines. That part -- it’s easy for him.”