ARLINGTON, Texas — There was sheer, unadulterated joy at the accomplishment..
But make no mistake, there was pure relief as well.
Aaron Judge, whose every at-bat in recent weeks has been a whirlwind of noise, sudden silence at each pitch and burgeoning pressure with each day torn from the dwindling regular-season calendar, became the American League’s single-season home run leader Tuesday night with his 62nd against the Rangers at Globe Life Field.
After going 1-for-5 in the first game of the doubleheader, Judge led off the second game and laser-beamed a 1-and-1 slider from righthander Jesus Tinoco 391 feet into the first row of seats in left for the record-setter. He had shared the record with Roger Maris since hitting No. 61 last Wednesday at Rogers Centre in Toronto.
“Oh, it’s a big relief,” Judge said, looking very much as if he felt exactly that.
On a night when he broke the record of 61 set 61 years ago in 1961, No. 99 hit No. 62 on a night when the Yankees' record moved to 99-62.
When Judge hit No. 60 on Sept. 20 at the Stadium against the Pirates (giving him 14 homers in the last 25 games), he had 15 games remaining, and when he hit No. 61, he had seven games left. But Judge, starting his 55th straight game, entered Game 2 at 9-for-39 with 18 walks and 15 strikeouts since his 60th and 3-for-17 with five walks and seven strikeouts since his 61st.
Afterward, he provided a bit of insight into what the journey, especially the last couple of weeks, has been like.
“It's tough to say because every game is stressful,” Judge said, asked if he felt stress to get No. 62 over with. “I kind of felt bad for my teammates because every single at-bat, I’ve got teammates stacked up, they’re on the top step [of the dugout] waiting for me to do this. Hit a double, I’d walk or I’d do something [else], I kind of felt like I was letting them down.
"Even the fans, all the fans packed at Yankee Stadium and fans that came here these past two games, I felt like I let them down if I had 2-for-4 game or a 1-for-2 game with a couple of walks, I felt like I was letting them down. So I never tried to think about it as pressure, I tried to enjoy every single moment and not really think about it . . . There's definitely a little pressure in there, but you try to block that out.”
When the ball left Judge's bat, on-deck hitter Giancarlo Stanton — who smashed 59 home runs during his 2017 NL MVP season with the Marlins and hit a 420-foot homer in the fifth inning to give the Yankees a 2-1 lead — stood, bat in his right hand, and extended both arms skyward as if signaling touchdown. Josh Donaldson vaulted the railing and celebrated outside the dugout even before the ball touched down.
Yankees players and staff poured from the dugout as if Judge had hit a walk-off homer to win a playoff game, greeting him in a sea of hugs and high-fives after he crossed the plate.
“Pretty surreal,” Judge said of the scene at home.
“It was really amazing,” said Aaron Boone, who is all but certain to rest Judge on Wednesday even though he wants to play. “You never know how you’re going to react in the moment. It was just so very cool. I felt like a little kid.”
Plaudits came from the outside, too.
“Congrats @TheJudge44 on home run 62. History made, more history to make,” President Joe Biden tweeted at 8:56 p.m. ET.
The Yankees lost the otherwise meaningless game, 3-2, with Gerrit Cole accomplishing his own history. Cole (13-8, 3.50) allowed three runs and six hits, giving up his league-leading 33rd homer, but struck out nine in six innings to set a single-season franchise strikeout record with 257. He broke Ron Guidry’s mark of 248 set in 1978.
In rightfield, Judge waved his cap and applauded Cole when he broke the record. But on this night, it was a footnote to Judge, which was just fine with Cole.
“It was a magical swing, a magical drive,” Cole said. “You can’t really prepare yourself for a moment like that. Just so special to be a part of it . . . [we] just wanted it to happen so bad.”
The Yankees, Judge especially, would have preferred to have it happen at Yankee Stadium, but he went homerless over the weekend in three games against the Orioles, seeing few quality pitches to hit. That was not the case against the Rangers, whose pitchers followed the instructions of new general manager Chris Young and came after Judge, successfully avoiding history in the first two games of the series but not the third.
There were plenty of Yankees fans among the 38,832 crammed into this ballpark Tuesday night.
“The fans. The fans at home, the fans on the road. The constant support,” Judge said of what he’ll most remember about the experience. “Seeing Yankee Stadium on their feet for every single at-bat. Booing pitchers for throwing balls, which I’ve never seen before. I think I got a base hit the other night and I was getting booed for a single. Little moments like that you look back on. Would have been great to do it at Yankee Stadium in front of our home fans, but I know lot of Yankees fans, they travel well. There were a lot of Yankees fans here tonight. Getting a chance to share that experience with the fans, that's what it’s about for me.”