TORONTO — New York Yankees star Aaron Judge hit his 61st home run of the season against the Toronto Blue Jays on Wednesday-evening, tying Roger Maris’ record in the American League.
It took Maris until October 1, the last game of the 1961 season, to make his 61st, breaking Babe Ruth’s single-season 60 home run barrier in 1927.
The judge did it on September 28 in Game No. 155 for New York. A day after the Yankees took the American League East title, Judge, who led off as the designated batter, got Toronto’s Tim Mayza deep in the seventh inning with a runner on base. Judge — who walked in his first at bat, popped out in his second and grounded out in his third — had played seven games without a homerun since scoring only one solo shot in the 6-0 homestand from New York.
He and the Yankees then went to Toronto to make history at Rogers Center. He went 1 for 3 with a single in Monday’s series opener and ran four times in Tuesday’s division final, before finally launching the historic shot on Wednesday.
The seven-game homerless drought was a rare occurrence for the select group that has reached such home run heights. Of the previous seven times a player hit 61 home runs, four had reached that point in the next game after hitting 60, and none had taken more than three games to reach the milestone.
Judge was finally there in the series finale, with Roger Maris Jr. and Judge’s mom in the front row atop the Yankees dugout. And now the only players in MLB history to have more home runs in a season are Barry Bonds (73), Mark McGwire (70, 65) and Sammy Sosa (66, 64, 63) – all of whom hit their target during the steroid era. (1998-2001).
Judge’s 2022 tear has been done without any evidence of performance-enhancing drugs being used by the Yankees slugger, whose All-Star outfielder’s numbers manager Aaron Boone believes are higher than the others.
“I think it’s up a notch,” Boone said last week. “I have to believe it’s right there with some of the best very short list of seasons of all time. I’m going back to the context of the season, and the more I look at it and dive into it, it should be a great season of all time .”
At one point, Judge’s scorching home run pace matched that of Bonds’ record 2001 season, but with less than two weeks left to play, it will take a formidable increase before he approaches that figure.
Maris’ 61 is considered by many to be the ‘clean’ homerun record. Judge, a Northern California native who has called Bonds “the greatest hitter of all time,” doesn’t devalue his performance.
“That’s the record. I saw him do it. I stayed up late to see how he did it. That’s the record. Nobody can take that from him,” said Judge, who graduated from Linden High School in San Joaquin County, about an hour and a half east of San Francisco Bay.
Bonds, for his part, said over the weekend that he could see Judge hit a home run after connecting at 61.
“Trying to get to 61 is the hardest,” Bonds said on the KayRod Cast on ESPN2 during Sunday Night Baseball. “Trying to get to that one. Once he gets there, he’ll probably hit five or six in a row after that. But trying to get there, that’s the hardest, that 61 will be the hardest. It’s a big moment at 61 .”
The Yankees are hoping for more big moments next month. Sometimes it seems like they’ve walked out of the American League package before stumbling in August, but New York seems destined for the AL’s No. 2 postseason seed behind the Houston Astros. The division title was New York’s first since 2019 and the 20th in franchise history.
Judge was a major reason for the crown, and it’s been more than just home runs. He got into action on Wednesday, leading the AL in batting average, home runs and RBI while appearing to become the third Yankees player to win the Triple Crown (Lou Gehrig in 1934, Mickey Mantle in 1956).
Judge’s homer gave the Yankees a 5-3 lead and they took a 6-3 lead in the bottom of the inning. The ball was retrieved by Blue Jays bullpen coach Matt Buschmann after it landed in the Toronto bullpen.