TORONTO — Roger Maris no longer stands alone.
And it isn’t likely that he’ll be standing beside Aaron Judge for very long.
Judge tied Maris’ single-season American League and Yankees franchise record, which has stood since 1961, with his 61st homer Wednesday night at Rogers Centre, hitting a two-run shot on a line to left off Blue Jays lefthander Tim Mayza in the seventh inning to snap a tie at 3 in what would be an 8-3 victory.
“This is something special,” Judge said. “But we’re not done yet.”
Of tying Maris, whose son, Roger Jr. was in attendance, as he’s been since Sept. 20 when Judge hit No. 60 at the Stadium, the outfielder said: “It’s an incredible honor getting a chance to be associated with one of the Yankees’ greats, one of baseball’s greats. To be enshrined with him forever, words can’t describe it . . . It’s a moment that I definitely will never forget. I’ll definitely cherish it.”
With special baseballs for the purposes of authentication in play — the case starting in the ninth inning Sept. 18 in Milwaukee when Judge came to the plate with 59 homers — Judge hammered a full-count, 95-mph sinker into the leftfield stands. Two fans tried to catch it, but the ball dropped into the Blue Jays' bullpen.
The much-discussed ball was corralled by Blue Jays bullpen coach Matt Buschmann and turned over to the Yankees by Toronto closer Jordan Romano.
Judge, who walked his final four plate appearances Tuesday night and in his first time up Wednesday, can pass Maris this weekend at the Stadium, where the Yankees start a three-game series Friday night against the Orioles. The Yankees (96-59), who clinched the AL East crown Tuesday night along with the No. 2 seed for the AL playoffs, have seven games remaining.
“I don’t think it’s going to take very long,” said Maris, who will stay with the chase until Judge breaks the tie with his father, who died in 1985. “I think he’s loose. I think the party last night, the celebration, I think loosened him up . . . you can tell he’s back and he’s ready to go now. I think it’ll happen in New York, and that’s where you want it to happen, it’s where I want it to happen. The city of New York deserves it, the fans deserve it. I think it will be great for baseball if it happens in New York. Like I mentioned to Aaron, ‘Get to New York and hit 62 and knock the top off Yankee Stadium.’ It’s going to be fun.”
Yankees players and staff poured out of the dugout to greet Judge after he crossed the plate, with the first person to hug him Aaron Hicks, who scored on the homer.
The crowd of 37,008, the vast majority of whom were rooting for the Blue Jays as the home team would have secured an AL wild-card bid with a victory Wednesday, stood and cheered as Judge, who had gone seven games between homers Nos. 60 and 61, rounded the bases and made his way back through a sea of teammates to the dugout. Judge walked an astounding 13 times in 34 plate appearances between his 60th and 61st.
“Definitely some relief getting to 61,” Judge said. “You try not to think about it, but it creeps into your head. Getting a chance to do it in a Yankee win, especially on a night Gerrit Cole ties the all-time single-season strikeout record [Cole struck out four to reach 248 to tie Ron Guidry’s record set in 1978], that’s a pretty special day right there.”
Maris held the single-season record until Mark McGwire hit 70 for the Cardinals in 1998. Barry Bonds bested that total in 2001 when he hit 73 with the Giants. Those records are seen as tainted by many inside and outside the game — including by the Maris family — because McGwire has admitted to steroid use and Bonds is accused of it, although he has denied it. Judge, a Northern California native who grew a Giants fan, has said he considers Bonds the single-season (as well as the all-time) home run king.
Maris doesn't. He sees the achievements of Bonds and McGwire as illegitimate.“I do,” he said. “I think most people do.”
He continued: “He [Judge] should be revered and celebrated like the single-season home run champ, not just like he’s the American League home run champ. He should be celebrated. I can’t think of anybody better that baseball can look up to than Aaron Judge, who is the face of baseball, to actually do that.”
Judge, who earlier this season became the 10th player in MLB history to produce two 50-home run seasons (Judge hit 52 in 2017), has consistently downplayed his ballooning home run total, saying “it’s just a number” and “it doesn’t matter to me” with each home run milestone reached and passed this season.
“He never makes it about himself,” Aaron Boone said. “A lot of people can talk that, he lives that. And he’s just an all-time kind of teammate. And the fact that he’s the face of your team and the best player and the fact that he is completely about others on the team, it just makes me proud to have been his skipper for the last five years now.”