And now it’s on to Toronto.
Nothing against Canada, or the Rogers Centre, or the Blue Jays, but there was a sellout crowd of 46,707 in the Bronx screaming their lungs out Sunday night for Aaron Judge to hit at least one home run, and possibly two, to finally dethrone Roger Maris at Yankee Stadium, the place these historic events deserve to happen.
But they didn’t stop there. After Judge went 1-for-2 with a walk and double, then stood waiting in the on-deck circle as play was halted at the end of six innings because of ark-caliber thunderstorms, a sizable chunk of those fans stuck around through a 98-minute rain delay. Huddled under the upper decks, seeking shelter as lightning flashed behind the centerfield videoboard (and ’80s hits like “Jessie’s Girl” blared through the loudspeakers), these people had abandoned all rational thought for the hope of seeing Judge take one more whack at Maris.
It didn’t happen. And those with a weather app on their phones had to realize that the Bronx portion of the Maris chase was effectively over as soon as the tarp was pulled across the infield.
ESPN was the third of three national TV networks to come up empty during the Yankees’ four-game sweep of the Red Sox, capped by Sunday’s 2-0 six-inning victory, and now comes the question: Would it be better for Judge to just bang this thing out at the Rogers Centre? Or would some people out there prefer to have him do it against the Orioles this coming weekend in the Bronx?
Privately, there’s got to be some faction within the Yankees that wants Judge’s big moment(s) on the Bronx stage. The scene at the Stadium the past week has been surreal, with fans rising to their feet every time Judge steps to the plate, first greeting him with wild applause and then settling into an eerie silence as the pitcher releases the ball.
Maris hit No. 61 at Yankee Stadium — albeit across the street where the old place once stood — and it’s only fitting that Judge accomplishes the feat here, too.
But after drilling No. 60 and tying Babe Ruth on Tuesday, Judge is homerless in five straight games after going deep, on average, once every 2 1⁄2 games this season.
Under normal circumstances, no one would think twice about such a stretch. But Judge is trying to break a 61-year-old record, the homer benchmark for both the franchise and the American League. There is nothing normal about this, so I asked Judge late Sunday night if there was maybe some disappointment not getting it done in the Bronx before heading to Toronto for the next three days.
“You can’t think along those lines,” he said. “It’s not our last home game, so I’m not too worried about it.”
Surely Judge would be fine going deep twice at Rogers Centre. His family watched from a Stadium suite all week and they’ll be making the trip north of the border as well. As the smiling Judge said of his parents, “They’re retired. They’ve got nothing to do.” But he probably wouldn’t mind coming back to finish off the Maris pursuit in the Bronx, either.
With the Yankees’ magic number down to two — they went 6-0 on the homestand, as manager Aaron Boone reminded everyone after the game — this team can afford to enjoy the spectacle of Judge smashing his way into the record books. And when you think about it, there really isn’t any rush, other than to get the weight off Judge’s broad shoulders and give Boone the green light to grant him a much-needed day off. As simple as Judge has made this look all season, the closer he has gotten to Maris, the harder the task has become, and just flicking doubles or drawing walks isn’t quite enough right now.
“The script will play out,” Boone said. “It’s the drama of sport. Things happen, if and when they’re supposed to. You’re competing at the highest level — you can’t just push buttons to have things happen. Just proud of the way he’s handling it and continuing to be the central figure in us winning games.”
For Judge, a larger-than-life figure who’s gone from an Opening Day contract standoff to having both Maris and the Triple Crown in his grasp down the stretch, these recent trips to the plate have been challenging in a way he’s never really experienced before. To have an entire stadium want one specific outcome, which also happens to be the most difficult feat in the sport, took some adjustment on his part.
But there’s no guarantee Judge will make history in Toronto, either. The last-place Red Sox didn’t have a problem pitching to him because they had nothing at stake. Same with the pathetic Pirates. But the Blue Jays need these wins, and they could just roll the ball up to the plate rather than give Judge the chance to beat them.
Then again, what would be so bad about Judge taking aim at Maris next weekend, back in the Bronx? By that point, Sunday night’s waterlogged crew should be dried out.