BOSTON — Alex Cora didn’t plan to give Aaron Judge, who resumed his chase for 60 homers Tuesday night at Fenway Park, the Barry Bonds treatment during the two-game series against the Yankees.
But the Red Sox manager indicated he didn’t quite plan to make Judge’s pursuit a cakewalk, either.
“We’ll pick and choose,” Cora told the Boston Globe Sunday in Baltimore.
Judge came into Tuesday still very much the American League MVP front-runner, hitting .307 with 55 homers (he added his 56th in sixth inning and 57th in the eighth).
But, in what amounts to a “drought” for Judge this season, going into Tuesday he had not homered in (gasp!) five games. It is important to point out, however, the outfielder nonetheless came into this series on an offensive tear, 16-for-his-last 31 (.516).
“I saw this with [Barry] Bonds,” Cora said of the all-timer leader in homers — perhaps tainted but still the leader with 762 —who famously, at his peak, was often walked intentionally, occasionally with the bases loaded. “You get caught up with walking guys and the next guy hits a three-run homer. [Judge] is locked in right now, but I think we’ve done a pretty good job with him this season.”
Judge certainly has been mostly locked in this season, entering this series with an MLB-leading 55 homers, 121 RBIs and 1.089 OPS. The player with the second-most home runs is Kyle Schwarber of the Phillies, who came into Tuesday with 37.
But Cora is right, to an extent, about his pitching staff. As bad as Red Sox pitchers have been this season, they’ve done a reasonable job against Judge, who entered the series hitting .277 with three homers and a .904 OPS in 12 games vs. the Yankees’ longtime rival.
Even in saying that, Cora told the Globe he would like to see Judge set the AL record for homers, which would entail hitting 62, breaking the record of 61 set by Roger Maris in 1961. (Bonds is the single-season leader with the 73 he hit for the Giants in 2001.)
“For the game, it would be great for him to do it,” Cora said. “He seems like a great kid and very humble. He hasn’t gotten caught up in anything, from contract negotiations [to] the chase for the home run mark.”
Aaron Boone has said throughout the season Judge was the “perfect” player to deal with the pressure that comes with the type of year he’s having, a sentiment he repeated before Tuesday night’s game.
“I’ve been saying that all along, going back to not getting the contract signed before the start of the season to now this season he’s putting up and the attention around the home runs at this point of the season,” Boone said. “He’s genuinely about team. That’s who he is. The most important thing to him is being a great teammate, and then you couple that with being super-talented, it makes it real simple. And that’s what he’s doing right now — he’s keeping it real simple for himself.”
And part of keeping it simple is the increasing number of teams giving him little to hit on a nightly basis. Judge came into Tuesday with an MLB-leading 15 intentional walks, a total that doesn’t include the “unintentional intentional” walks when pitchers simply don’t come close to the strike zone, the reason the slugger came into Tuesday with an AL-leading 87 walks overall (the Padres' Juan Soto leads baseball with 119 walks).
“For him, it’s about going up there and, whether a team’s pitching around him or whether they’re going after him, it’s like, ‘I’m going up there with my plan, looking for what I’m looking for, a pitch to hit, if not I’m going to pass it on to my teammates,’ ” Boone said. “Whatever number of home runs he ends up hitting, I don’t think it’s that important to him. He knows where we are, and it’s about going out there and trying to win a ballgame. When you have that genuine, simple mindset approach to it, it makes playing the game a lot easier.”