Aaron Judge earned place in Yankees lore with 61st home run

TORONTO — The roof was sealed shut, locking down the building and the drama and making the crack of the bat twice as loud. Aaron Judge had just taken a healthy cut at a full-count sinker traveling 94 miles per hour, and he had sent it roaring 117.4 miles per hour toward a sacred place in baseball history above the left-field wall. 

Tim Mayza, Blue Jays lefty, threw his arms out in a show of helplessness and dismay as he tracked the flight path of his eighth and final pitch to Judge, whose mother, Patty, rose in unison with Roger Maris Jr. from their side-by-side seats in the stands. From the Rogers Centre press box in the left-field corner, the ball looked as if it was moving blindingly fast, like a lashed 3-iron right out of Tiger Woods’ prime. 

The shot crashed beneath a couple of unlucky souls who reached over the railing for their 15 minutes of fame, and came up empty. It crashed above the Sportsbook & Casino sign and into the Toronto bullpen, making it official: 

In 120 years of big league ball, no Yankee had ever hit more home runs in a single season than Aaron James Judge. He tied Maris’ American League record with his 61st in the seventh inning of the Yankees’ 8-3 victory over the Blue Jays, at 9:10 p.m. on Wednesday, September 28th, 2022. 

After Judge rounded second base and headed for third, he pointed toward his mother, who was wearing her adopted son’s pinstriped jersey. She blew him a kiss. What else is a mother to do when her boy just did something even Babe Ruth couldn’t do? 

Patty Judge was there in their Linden, Calif., hometown a dozen years ago when the major league scouts visited to take a look at her son, an outsize slugger and pitcher who was causing something of a stir. Here’s a sampling of what some of those evaluators had to say: 

New York Yankees Aaron Judge speaking at a press conference after the game. Judge tied Roger Maris, hitting his 61st homer of the year in the 7th inning.
Aaron Judge could have opted out of Wednesday’s game, but made a historic choice to play instead.
Charles Wenzelberg / New York Post
Yankees star Aaron Judge hit home run No. 61 against the Blue Jays on Wednesday night.
Charles Wenzelberg / New York Post

Yankees scout: “This guy’s got nothing.” 

Pirates scout: “This guy f–kin’ sucks.” 

Red Sox scout: “They fly my ass out here, and [Judge] can’t even play dead.” 

Hey, a lot of evaluators missed on Tom Brady, too. Judge overcame the doubts, improved his game year after year after year and persuaded the Yankees to overlook that first report from one of their own, Tim McIntosh, a former member of the 1996 team who became a believer during Judge’s rise through the minor leagues. 

But nobody could have predicted this moment, this night, this forever place in Yankees mythology. 

“If what you did yesterday still seems big today,” Judge writes in his Twitter bio, “then you haven’t done anything today.” 

The big man sure as hell did something today, thanks to his manager’s decision to play him on the night after the Yankees clinched the division title. Aaron Boone made the right call. He made the common-sense call. In fact, he made the only possible call when it came to yes or no on Judge playing against the Blue Jays on Wednesday night. 

If the decision to play or bench the slugger was measured strictly by a big-picture standard, well, that one would be easy. Judge had played in 150 out of 154 possible games this year, and he had to be somewhat drained — physically and emotionally — from the extended pursuit of Ruth, Maris and home-run immortality. 

With the Yankees having no chance to catch the Astros for home-field advantage in a potential ALCS duel, why wouldn’t you want to get a 6-foot-7, 282-pound man off the artificial turf, and off his feet altogether, with a scheduled day off Thursday providing the delicious daily double of rest that could serve him well in October? 

Why? Because the designated hitter spot allows for a nice and tidy compromise, and because some things are important enough to override conventional wisdom, that’s why. 

Some things, like breaking Maris’s franchise, American League and non-PED record for home runs. Judge went seven games without sending a ball over the wall. He needed to keep playing until he closed the deal. 

Everything to know about Aaron Judge and his chase for the home run record:

Boone approached him in the middle of the celebration Tuesday night and asked, “What do you think about tomorrow?” 

“I want to play,” Judge responded. “Let’s go.” 

He did go and he delivered on a night no witness will ever forget. 

“To sit at 60 for a while there with the Babe was nice,” Judge said. “To get a chance now to sit at 61 with another Yankee right fielder, it’s pretty cool.” 

New York Yankees Aaron Judge #99, hitting a homer in the 7th inning, his 61st of the season, tying his with Roger Maris for the American League season home run record.
With one seventh-inning swing, Aaron Judge entered himself into Yankees’ legend.
Charles Wenzelberg / New York Post

Thank heavens Boone kept the sport’s best player and biggest attraction in the lineup. 

“It’s an incredible honor getting a chance to be associated with one of the Yankee greats, one of baseball’s greats, to be enshrined with him forever,” Judge said of Maris. “Words can’t describe it.” 

With the ball in the air, Maris Jr. reached over to Patty Judge to say congratulations and give her a hug. Maris Jr. later said he saw the Barry Bonds and Mark McGwire home-run numbers as illegitimate, and that if Judge gets to 62, he should be considered the genuine all-time king of the long ball. 

“And I think it will happen in New York,” Maris Jr. said. 

After Judge left the field and hugged his mother near the Yankees clubhouse, he stopped for a talk with the late slugger’s son. 

“Get to New York and hit 62 and knock the top off Yankee Stadium,” Maris Jr. told him. 

That’s going to happen. But he had to get to 61 first, and when he did Wednesday night, Aaron Judge became part of Yankees mythology forever.