NEW YORK -- His teammates egged him on, one after another. Approaching the end of a rookie season for the ages, it was time for Aaron Judge to finally rise.
"You gotta go out there," they implored him. "You gotta go out there."
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Such was the discussion that led to Judge's first career curtain call. At first bashful, Judge relented, and with two strides up the dugout steps appeared on the field, the new Major League record holder for home runs during a rookie season with 50.
Judge belted Nos. 49 and 50 to lead New York to a 11-3 win over the Royals on Monday, the first tying and the second breaking Mark McGwire's single-season rookie record, which had stood since 1987. Judge's second of the game, a titanic shot off Trevor Cahill in the seventh, was quite the capper.
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He is the fifth player in Yankees history to hit 50 home runs in a season, joining Babe Ruth (four times), Mickey Mantle (twice), Roger Maris and Alex Rodriguez.
"Describe the feeling?" Judge said after the game. "It's been an incredible ride, this whole year."
A paid crowd of 40,023 cheered Judge for his record-setting blast, but its roar could have easily been seen as appreciation for his summer as a whole. Judge now has six games to extend his record, but his season already ranks highly among the most impressive rookie campaigns in Major League history.
"I couldn't be happier for him," said McGwire, who currently works as the Padres' bench coach. "The future for him as a bona fide home run hitter is bright. Who knows what the number is going to be. Watch out 73. Seriously."
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After scuffling some in July and August, Judge now has 13 home runs in September, the most in any month this season. He's hit seven in his last seven games, a stretch that's put him right back in the middle of the American League MVP race, alongside Houston's Jose Altuve and Cleveland's Jose Ramirez.
"You're going to have a hard time arguing he doesn't [deserve it], and you're going to have a hard time arguing other guys don't, based on what side of the fence you're on," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "But for me, he's been incredible."
Judge's blasts continue to inspire awe from his manager and teammates, and his homers Monday were just two more examples of that. He took a high fastball from Jakob Junis and lined it 389 feet, according to Statcast™, in the third, before pulling a breaking ball into the left-field bleachers in the seventh.
Judge had never experienced a curtain call before, never in amateur ball or the Minor Leagues. He was embarrassed afterwards, saying he didn't feel comfortable drawing attention to himself that way.
"The game was going on, you know?" Judge said. "I was more focused on that."
But for his teammates, the moment served as a culmination of what Judge has meant to the Yankees' rebuild, which appears complete with a playoff appearance just a week away. And it was a moment earned for a rookie season that now stands alone in history.
"Hitting 50 home runs, carrying this team to the playoffs," said starter Carsten Sabathia, who earned the win Monday, "we can honestly say we are in this spot because of him. That's what an MVP is."
Judge broke the record with a 408-foot shot to left-center, a towering drive that reached a 136-foot peak, according to Statcast™.
Judge has now homered against every AL opponent this season.