Aaron Judge stepped to the plate with one on and one out in the bottom of the ninth inning and the Yankees one swing from tying Sunday's game. On a 3-and-2 pitch, he sent a drive soaring toward rightfield.
The crowd at Yankee Stadium made that sound of home run anticipation, but the ball fell short of the warning track and was caught. The Yankees also fell short, losing to the Royals, 8-6.
Breaking news came out of the game: Aaron Judge didn’t hit a homer.
That has become the exception. He had homered nine times in his previous nine games and a franchise-record 12 times in his previous 14 games.
So he enters August with a major league-leading and franchise-record 42, having beaten Babe Ruth’s Yankees mark of 41 homers before August set in 1928.
At the rate Judge is going, he’s got a great chance to break Roger Maris’ American League record of 61 in 1961. He would need to launch 20 homers in the Yankees' final 59 games, a pace that projects to 55 homers in 162 games — less than his current pace of 66.
At this point, Maris had hit 40 after belting 13 in July, just as Judge did. But besieged by a sometimes hostile media with little help from the club itself and battling homegrown hero and fan favorite Mickey Mantle in the attempt to eclipse Ruth's record, Maris was hit hard by the pressure and the scrutiny. His hair began to fall out.
How will Judge handle it?
“His hairline is tremendous right now,” Aaron Boone said. “I noticed it the other day, and it was really good.”
But seriously, folks, the Yankees’ manager knows how Judge will handle it if he continues to make a run at the record. In Boone's view, the pressure isn’t going to get him.
“Aaron is cut out for this,” Boone said. “If we’re a month from now, six weeks from now, and he’s knocking on the door of those kind of things, and we understand the attention that’s going to come with that, I can’t think of someone more equipped to handle it.”
Judge has handled his contract situation rather well. He turned down a seven-year extension worth $213.5 million (to combine with $17 million for this year) right before the season opener and can be a free agent after the season.
He bet on himself and has excelled. So the 30-year-old outfielder likely will cash in for more than $300 million from the Yankees or another team.
The situation hasn’t impacted him negatively at all.
“I think you can start at the start of this year with all the talk centered around the contract and how that’s affected him,” Boone said. “He’s built for this. I think anything you throw at him, whether he gets to a number or doesn’t get to a number, I don’t think that the circumstances and the pressure is going to be a reason he does or doesn’t.”
After he hit his 200th career homer in Saturday’s 8-2 win over Kansas City, Judge said he wasn’t looking toward Maris’ mark or the projections from where he’s at now. He called it “speculation.”
“You never know what’s going to happen,” he said. “So for me, I've just got to keep working hard, keep my head down and do what I can to help this team win games. At the end of the year, we can talk about what we finish at and how it feels.”
Barry Bonds finished at 73 in 2001 for the overall record. Entering August, he was three ahead of where Judge stands, sitting at 45. Mark McGwire also was at 45 in 1998 before finishing with 70. Like Judge, Sammy Sosa had 42 at this point in 1998 and wound up with 66.
Judge hit 52 in 155 games in 2017, setting an MLB rookie record that was broken when Pete Alonso hit 53 in 2019. The 6-7, 282-pound Judge had 39 in 148 games last season.
So why has he been able to pick up the pace this season? Boone points to more experience.
“So it’s led to a more well-rounded hitter, better consistent quality of contact,” he said. “And when you add in his size and power when you’re making good contact, for him, that’s a lot of times going to lead to home runs.”