Yankees’ Judge hits 61st homer, ties Maris’ record

    Marly Rivera is a writer for ESPNdeportes.com and ESPN.com.

TORONTO — New York Yankees star Aaron Judge hit his 61st home run of the season Wednesday night against the Toronto Blue Jays, tying Roger Maris’ American League record.

It took Maris until Oct. 1, the final game of the 1961 season, to hit his 61st, which broke Babe Ruth’s single-season mark of 60 home runs set in 1927.

Judge did it Sept. 28, in Game No. 155 for New York. A day after the Yankees clinched the American League East title, Judge, batting leadoff as the designated hitter, took Toronto’s Tim Mayza deep in the seventh inning with a runner on base. Judge — who walked in his first at-bat, popped out in his second and grounded out in his third — had gone seven games without a home run since managing a solo shot during New York’s 6-0 homestand.

He and the Yankees then headed to Toronto looking to make history at Rogers Centre. He went 1-for-3 with a single in the series opener Monday and walked four times in Tuesday’s division clincher, before ultimately launching the historic shot Wednesday in the Yankees’ 8-3 victory.

When he finished rounding the bases, his thrilled teammates had left the dugout to greet him.

“It was pretty cool. I wasn’t expecting it,” Judge said in his postgame, on-field interview. “Seeing the love from my teammates, I do what I do for them. And to do it in a win, it’s tough to describe right now.”

Home plate umpire Brian O’Nora, after the game, congratulated Judge just outside the Yankees dugout, and handed him the official lineup card from the night.

“I’m playing a kid’s a game and I love this. I love these moments,” Judge said. “It was a 3-3 game, and I just wanted to go out there and do my job.”

The seven-game homerless drought was a rare case for the select few who’ve reached such home run heights. Of the previous seven instances in which a player hit 61 home runs, four had reached that mark the next game after hitting 60 and none went more than three games to reach the milestone.

Judge finally got there in the series finale, with Roger Maris Jr. and Judge’s mother sitting front row on top of the Yankees dugout. And now, the only players in MLB history with more home runs in a season are Barry Bonds (73), Mark McGwire (70, 65) and Sammy Sosa (66, 64, 63) — all of whom accomplished theirs during the steroid era (1998 to 2001).

Judge’s 2022 tear has been done with zero evidence of performance-enhancing drugs used by the Yankees slugger, which manager Aaron Boone believes puts the All-Star outfielder’s numbers beyond those recorded by the others.

“I think it puts it a notch above,” Boone said last week. “I got to believe it’s right there with some of the best very short list of all-time seasons. I go back to the context of the season, and the more I look at it and dive into it, it’s got to be an all-time great season.”

At one point, Judge’s torrid home run pace matched that of Bonds’ 2001 record-setting season, but with less than two weeks left of games, it will take a formidable surge for him now to approach that mark.

Maris’ 61 is considered by many to be the “clean” home run record. Judge, a Northern California native who has called Bonds “the greatest hitter of all time,” does not devalue his accomplishments.

“That’s the record,” said Judge, who graduated from Linden High School in San Joaquin County, about an hour and a half east of the San Francisco Bay. “I watched him do it. I stayed up late watching him do it. That’s the record. No one can take that from him.”

Bonds, for his part, said over the weekend that he could see Judge going on a home run streak after connecting on his 61st.

“Trying to get to that 61 is the hardest one,” Bonds said on the KayRod Cast on ESPN2 during Sunday Night Baseball. “Trying to get to that one. Once he gets to it, he’s probably going to hit five or six in a row after that. But trying to get to there, that’s the hardest one, that 61 is going to be the hardest. It’s a big moment on 61.”

The Yankees are hoping for more big moments next month. At times appearing as if they’d run away from the American League pack before stumbling through August, New York seems destined for the AL’s No. 2 postseason seed behind the Houston Astros. The division title was New York’s first since 2019, and 20th overall in franchise history.

Judge was a big reason for the crown, and it’s been more than just home runs. He entered Wednesday’s action leading the AL in batting average, home runs and RBIs as he looks to become the third Yankees player to win the Triple Crown (Lou Gehrig in 1934, Mickey Mantle in 1956).

Judge’s homer gave the Yankees a 5-3 lead, and they took a 6-3 edge into the bottom of the inning. The ball was retrieved by Blue Jays bullpen coach Matt Buschmann after it bounded into the Toronto bullpen.

“The inning before, the Blue Jays scored three runs, and I just wanted to get up there and get something going,” Judge said. “It’s an incredible honor. This is something pretty special.”

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