After he blasted No. 60 on Tuesday night against the Pirates, it seemed inevitable that sometime during this homestand, Aaron Judge would at least tie Roger Maris for the American League single-season home run record. After all, he had five more games to hit No. 61 before the Yankees would go on the road.
It no longer seems quite as certain. And if Judge doesn’t homer Sunday night in the series finale against the Red Sox, the record-setter — and record-breaker — may well come north of the border as the Yankees start a three-game series in Toronto on Monday night.
Judge, pitched to somewhat aggressively by the Red Sox on Saturday (which hadn't always been the case in the first two games of the series), went 0-for-3 with a walk and two strikeouts in a 7-5 victory in front of a sellout crowd of 47,611 at the Stadium.
“Even for a guy that hit 60 home runs, he still doesn't hit them every day,” Aaron Boone said. “A lot of things have to line up, even for the best of the best. So as long as he continues to take good at-bats and make good swing decisions, it'll happen sooner than later.”
After Judge was rung up by first-base umpire Chris Conroy for the first out of the seventh inning on a check swing — and waved his hand twice in disagreement toward Conroy — Anthony Rizzo torpedoed a 0-and-1 changeup from righthander John Schreiber into the bleachers above the Yankees' bullpen in right-center. His 434-foot two-run homer snapped a 5-5 tie and gave him 32 homers, tying a career high.
“Obviously, we all want him to do it here, especially in this stadium,” Rizzo said of Judge getting No. 61. “Hopefully it comes tomorrow on our biggest stage, Sunday Night Baseball. So we’ll see.”
The Yankees have 11 games remaining against the Red Sox, Blue Jays, Orioles and Rangers.
There would be some symmetry to the record being tied or broken on Sunday. On the same date in 2014, Derek Jeter hit a walk-off single to beat the Orioles in his final at-bat at Yankee Stadium.
The Yankees (93-58), winners of six straight games and 14 of their last 18, lowered their magic number to three to clinch the AL East title. They also got home runs from Gleyber Torres (No. 24) and rookie Oswaldo Cabrera (No. 4).
Trade deadline acquisition Scott Effross, activated from the injured list this past week, had a jittery ninth, allowing the first two batters to reach and loading the bases with two outs. But the righthander got Bobby Dalbec to ground to short for a forceout at second in earning his second save in two chances with the Yankees.
So desperate were the fans who wanted Judge to get another at-bat — he would have led off the bottom of the ninth — that Boston manager Alex Cora said he heard something wholly unexpected at Yankee Stadium.
“It was kind of weird. The last inning, there was a section where they started chanting ‘Let's Go Red Sox!’ And it was a bunch of Yankees fans,” Cora said. “There was a guy right next to me saying ‘Let's go, Alex! Let’s score two!’ I told him, if you get this place chanting ‘Let's Go Red Sox!’ you’re the man. I wanted to score three, and it just didn't happen. But it is a cool scene. These fans are great. They did an amazing job rooting for their team and obviously rooting for him [Judge].”
Domingo German, 2-3 with a 3.12 ERA coming in, allowed three runs and three hits — including second-inning homers by Triston Casas and Reese McGuire — making it 11 straight starts in which the righthander allowed three or fewer runs.
Red Sox starter Nick Pivetta, against whom Judge already had hit two home runs this season, allowed five runs and six hits in five innings. Judge went 0-for-2 against him with a walk and one strikeout.
“I think it's fun to compete against certain guys in those situations,” Pivetta said. “I've never had anything like that. I’ve pitched against Judge since 2017. So to see him come along as his career's progressed is really impressive to watch and it’s fun to compete against. It's what I live for.”
Judge swung and fouled back the first pitch he saw in the game, a 94-mph fastball, and did the same with a second straight 94-mph heater from Pivetta. He struck out looking at the third pitch, a third straight 94-mph fastball. Two batters later, Torres hammered one to left for a 1-0 lead.
“I think he's been on stuff all week, this whole series,” Boone said of Judge. “Pivetta had a good fastball going early. I thought he got some good swings off against him, just missed a few balls. That happens sometimes; you get that one where you get your good swing off and put it on the net . . . I look forward to him to take another crack at it tomorrow.”