After treating Sunday’s sellout crowd at Yankee Stadium to one of the most awesome home runs ever hit in the Bronx, it was appropriate that Aaron Judge was draped in a short-sleeve shirt, fresh out of the box, featuring the Great Hambino from the movie “The Sandlot.”
Because the animated debate that followed in the Yankees’ clubhouse — between Judge’s teammates discussing his Ruthian blast over the bleachers in left-centerfield — could have come straight from that classic baseball film.
The consensus? StatCast got it wrong. No way was it 495 feet.
“That was the coolest thing ever,” Chris Carter said. “Got to be 550 feet. It wasn’t coming down! The ball kept going!”
From the next locker, an excited Didi Gregorius quickly jumped in, interrupting Carter mid-sentence to pose the question. “You don’t really believe that was 495, do you? I’d say 520.”
And on it went. The first-place Yankees, who had just steam-rolled the Orioles again, this time by the score of 14-3 to sweep the weekend series, were laughing and joking and yelling over each other like kids. Everyone was giddy over what they had witnessed from Judge — except for the outfielder himself, who was typically reluctant to tack on a superlative or two about his two-homer day.
When asked if he dared sneak a peek at that sixth-inning missile, which nearly reached the mural of retired numbers beyond those bleachers, Judge broke into the same smile he always does when deflecting any hint of hyperbole.
“No need,” he replied.
Of course. When Judge connects like that, as he did on that Logan Verrett slider, he knows where the ball is headed from the moment of contact.
Still, this one was different. There was not a soul in the building Sunday who had ever seen a home run travel to that distant patch of real estate. During the ball’s flight, the Yankees watched from the dugout in amazement, with Gregorius hanging off the roof and Brett Gardner fist-pumping like crazy. This was video-game fantasy come to life.
“He hits it so hard,” Gardner said. “I’d like to know what that feels like.”
But Judge is about so much more than merely brute force. He leads the American League not only in home runs (21) but in batting average (.344) and RBIs (47). That’s the Triple Crown. Maybe an antiquated term for the analytics-obsessed, but pretty darn impressive to the rest of us.
Factor in Judge’s solid defense, his baserunning smarts and simply his commitment to playing the game the way it should be played, and he’s the whole package. It’s no wonder he has rocketed to the top of the All-Star balloting — passing Mike Trout — and his immense popularity is outweighed only by the universal respect he has earned.
“He’s leading in All-Star votes,” Gardner said, “and if the MVP were voted on today, he’d win that, too.”
No argument here. But after getting so wrapped up in the first homer’s distance and exit velocity (118.6 mph), we should point out that the second was memorable as well. It was a bullet line drive that skimmed over the auxiliary scoreboard to the right of the Yankees’ bullpen at seemingly the same height, from the bat’s barrel to the bleacher seats, in what seemed like an eye blink.
Poor Jimmy Yacobonis. The Orioles reliever, just called up that morning from Triple-A Norfolk, must have thought it was safe to stick a 96-mph fastball on the far edge of the plate to Judge, who earlier had vaporized a high slider (too far in) from Verrett. But there is no such spot against Judge, no obvious weakness. And Judge blistered the pitch for an opposite-field shot that few other players, if any, are strong enough to duplicate.
“The one thing he’s remained is disciplined,” Joe Girardi said. “His power is incredible and his ability to use the whole field is special.”
After what Judge did Sunday, however, we’re thinking bigger — like the odds of him actually airmailing one out of Yankee Stadium. Mickey Mantle almost did it at the old place across the street, so why not Judge here?
In Gardner’s estimation, a little more pull, another 30 feet, and Judge gets it over the concrete wall behind the bleachers.
Judge? He isn’t so sure. “I don’t know,” he said, smiling again. “I’ve got to have the wind blowing out.”
Now that we’ve already seen the impossible, who would be surprised?
Longest home runs in MLB this season:
Player, team, HR distance (feet), Date
Aaron Judge, Yankees 495 6/11
Jake Lamb, Arizona 481 4/29
George Springer, Houston 473 5/31
Kennys Vargas, Minnesota, 471 6/10
Kyle Schwarber, Chicago Cubs 470 5/23
Ryan Zimmerman, Washington 470 4/29
Manny Machado, Baltimore 470 4/28
Hanley Ramirez, Boston 469 4/29
Giancarlo Stanton, Miami 468 5/7
Manny Machado, Baltimore 466 5/4