It took Maris until Oct. 1, the final game of the 1961 season, to hit his 61st, which broke Babe Ruth’s single-season mark of 60 home runs set in 1927.
Judge did it Sept. 28, in Game No. 155 for New York. A day after the Yankees clinched the American League East title, Judge, batting leadoff as the designated hitter, took 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 gone seven games without a home run since managing a solo shot during New York’s 6-0 homestand.
He and the Yankees then headed to Toronto looking to make history at Rogers Centre. He went 1-for-3 with a single in the series opener Monday and walked four times in Tuesday’s division clincher, before ultimately launching the historic shot Wednesday in the Yankees’ 8-3 victory. When he finished rounding the bases, his thrilled teammates had left the dugout to greet him.
“It’s an incredible honor, getting a chance to be associated with one of the Yankee greats, one of baseball’s greats, words can’t describe it,” Judge said. “That’s one thing so special about the Yankees organization, is all the guys that came before us and kind of paved the way and played the game the right way, did things the right way, did a lot of great things in this game and getting a chance to be mentioned with those guys now is, I can’t even describe it, it’s an incredible honor that’s for sure.”
Home plate umpire Brian O’Nora, after the game, congratulated Judge just outside the Yankees dugout, and handed him the official lineup card from the night.
Judge said when he hit the ball, he wasn’t sure if it would be a homer or an out. But once it got over the fence, he said he felt “relief” knowing the Yankees were in the lead as a result.
“Getting a chance to tie Roger Maris,” Judge said, “you dream about that kind of stuff, it’s unreal.”
The seven-game homerless drought was a rare case for the select few who’ve reached such home run heights. Of the previous seven instances in which a player hit 61 home runs, four had reached that mark the next game after hitting 60 and none went more than three games to reach the milestone.
Judge finally got there in the series finale, with Roger Maris Jr. and Judge’s mother, Patty, sitting front row on top of the Yankees dugout. And now, the only players in MLB history with more home runs in a season are Barry Bonds (73), Mark McGwire (70, 65) and Sammy Sosa (66, 64, 63) — all of whom accomplished theirs during the steroid era (1998 to 2001).
“It felt like we were the only ones there. It was just a really good moment of togetherness,” Yankees starter Gerrit Cole said, describing the celebration. “We’re all so proud of him, and know how hard he works. He wants to keep it low key, but boy, does he deserve it.”
Maris Jr. confirmed in a postgame news conference that he will travel back to Yankee Stadium this week as Judge swings for No. 62.
“I don’t think it’s going to take very long,” he said. “I think he’s loose. I think the party last night, the celebration, loosened him up. … You can tell that he’s back, and he’s ready to go now.”
Judge’s 2022 tear has been done with zero evidence of performance-enhancing drugs used by the Yankees slugger, which manager Aaron Boone believes puts the All-Star outfielder’s numbers beyond those recorded by the others.
“I think it puts it a notch above,” Boone said last week. “I got to believe it’s right there with some of the best very short list of all-time seasons. I go back to the context of the season, and the more I look at it and dive into it, it’s got to be an all-time great season.”
Maris Jr. concurred, and went a step further.
“[Judge] should be revered for being the actual single-season home run champ. I mean, that’s really who he is if he hits 62, and I think that’s what needs to happen. I think baseball needs to look at the records and I think baseball should do something,” he said.
At one point, Judge’s torrid home run pace matched that of Bonds’ 2001 record-setting season, but with less than two weeks left of games, it will take a formidable surge for him now to approach that mark.
Maris’ 61 is considered by many to be the “clean” home run record. Judge, a Northern California native who has called Bonds “the greatest hitter of all time,” does not devalue Bonds’ accomplishments.
“That’s the record,” said Judge, who graduated from Linden High School in San Joaquin County, about an hour and a half east of the San Francisco Bay. “I watched him do it. I stayed up late watching him do it. That’s the record. No one can take that from him.”
Bonds, for his part, said over the weekend that he could see Judge going on a home run streak after connecting on his 61st. “Trying to get to that 61 is the hardest one,” Bonds said on the KayRod Cast on ESPN2 during Sunday Night Baseball.
“Trying to get to that one. Once he gets to it, he’s probably going to hit five or six in a row after that. But trying to get to there, that’s the hardest one, that 61 is going to be the hardest. It’s a big moment on 61.”
The Yankees are hoping for more big moments next month. At times appearing as if they’d run away from the American League pack before stumbling through August, 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 20th overall in franchise history.
Judge was a big reason for the crown, and it’s been more than just home runs. He entered Wednesday’s action leading the AL in batting average, home runs and RBIs as he looks to become the third Yankees player to win the Triple Crown (Lou Gehrig in 1934, Mickey Mantle in 1956).
“He’s as beloved as they become,” Boone said. “Everyone is just so excited for him, and — because Aaron is the way he is — everyone feels a part of it. And that’s who he is as a teammate.”
Judge’s homer gave the Yankees a 5-3 lead, and they took a 6-3 edge into the bottom of the inning. The ball grazed past two outstretched gloves from the stands, bounced off a wall and dropped into Toronto’s bullpen.
“The disbelief comes over you and just the shock and the amazement,″ said Frankie Lasagna, one of the two fans closest to the ball. “I was like, ‘Oh my God, I almost had it.'”
The ball was retrieved by Blue Jays bullpen coach Matt Buschmann.
Yankees director of team security Mark Kafalas went over to recover the ball. When Kafalas returned empty-handed, and one of the clubbies also failed to retrieve it, veteran reliever Zack Britton became the team emissary.
Britton got the ball from Blue Jays closer Jordan Romano, who said he just “didn’t want to give it to the wrong person,” describing the scene as a “spectacle.”
“I didn’t know actually know where [the ball] was. I mean, honestly, I didn’t know if a guy caught it or where it was in the bullpen,” Britton said. “Just having the ball, that was cool. It has like a number on it. And that was cool. I mean, you’re holding history.”
Britton joked that the Yankees relievers were going to engage in negotiations with Judge on that piece of history. But Judge got the ball and immediately gifted it to his mother, Patty, who reacted with perhaps the perfect summation of her son’s 2022 season: “That’s awesome. That’s too awesome.”
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.