Aaron Judge has been among MLB's most popular players since his American League Rookie of the Year season in 2017, a season highlighted by his then-rookie-record 52 home runs.
He has been called one of the “faces” of the game by none other than commissioner Rob Manfred.
And Judge, very much like the player he often is compared to in terms of comportment — Derek Jeter — has plenty of fans in rival dugouts as well. Over the years, it has not been an unusual sight to see opponentsapproach him before games to introduce themselves (some even request a picture with him). Blue Jays All-Star Vlad Guerrero Jr., a pretty significant name in the game himself, is among the opponents who have done so.
Judge, who entered Sunday night with 60 homers, one shy of Roger Maris’ American League record, is a larger-than-life figure not just to fans. And he has plenty of those in dugouts other than his own.
That includes some of the pitchers he’s faced.
Nick Pivetta, who started Saturday for the Red Sox and pitched Judge fairly aggressively, said he has no issue with the new baseballs that get put into play for authentication purposes for each Judge at-bat even though the specialty balls don’t have the same feel.
“I think the [regular] game balls were more rubbed up than those balls. That's just how it goes. It is what it is,” said Pivetta, who entered Saturday’s start having allowed two of Judge’s 60 homers. “What he's trying to go after deserves different baseballs. I think it's the right thing to happen. It's just the way the game is and there's no problem with it.”
Pivetta, unlike some of his fellow Red Sox pitchers, went right after Judge Saturday.
“I'm always gonna challenge Judge; gonna challenge all those guys,” he said. “He hit a curveball home run [earlier in the season], a slider home run, so he hasn't hit a home run off my fastball, so just challenge him all the way and see how it goes.”
Pivetta said “of course” he was looking forward to challenging himself against one of the best hitters in the game during a history-making season.
“I think it's fun to compete against certain guys in those situations. I've never had anything like that,” he said. “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.”
After hitting his 60th homer Tuesday against the Pirates, Judge had gone without a homer for — gasp — four straight games entering Sunday night.
Aaron Boone had him at designated hitter Sunday night, a way to get him off his feet in the field for a least one day. A frequent topic the last two weeks has been when Boone might choose to give Judge a full day off, something he did on a handful of occasions earlier in the year (he has missed only four games).
“You never know,” Boone said Sunday when asked if he will rest Judge before he ties or breaks Maris’ record. “Look, if we get to a point where I feel like he needs a rest because something pops up or whatever . . . I’m not going to go predicting what it is. I’ll work closely with him and what’s the best path forward for him and us. We have those conversations all the time.”
Boone said the Yankees' three days off in a recent eight-day stretch helped in that cause.
"That's a unique part of the schedule that I think served him and us well," Boone said. "But coupled with the fact that, I think, this year, more than last year where he remained remarkably healthy, there were still days [last year] where I knew he was a little beat up and felt like he needed something. It's been a little cleaner throughout [this season]. There were some true strategic [days off] early and in the middle of the year around some off days that hopefully served him well."
Boone said he hasn’t seen any evidence that Judge's pursuit of Maris has weighed on him mentally, either.
"I don't think it has taken that mental toll, because you are always paying attention to that with players," Boone said. "Sometimes you feel like a guy does need a break. I haven't felt that to be the case [with Judge].”