By Alasdair Howorth, CNN
The New York Yankees are hosting their bitter rivals, the Boston Red Sox, in the Bronx for the second game of their four-game home series, but for once, the rivalry takes a back seat as Aaron Judge looks to equal Roger Maris’ American League and Yankees single-season record of 61 home runs.
On Thursday, the Yankees beat the Red Sox 5-4 to seal their spot in the 2022 postseason, but that achievement was overshadowed by Judge and his pursuit of greatness.
The right-fielder nearly made history in the bottom of the ninth inning. The slugger’s connection looked destined to reach the center field netting, but dropped just short into the glove of Kiké Hernández.
“Just got underneath it a little bit,” Judge said after the game. “It was a pretty windy night. I was hoping it was blowing out. Just missed it.”
With the Yankees qualified for the postseason and the Red Sox having nothing to play for in the season other than pride, Judge will take center stage as he pursues an amazing accomplishment.
The 30-year-old has already matched Babe Ruth’s total from over 90 years ago and could level — or surpass — Maris’ 61-year-old record, sealing his spot among the all-time batting greats.
“I keep saying over and over, Aaron Judge; everyone should just watch and take notice,” Yankees head coach Aaron Boone said earlier this week after Judge hit his 60th HR. “I can say this because I’ve lived this and he’s shown this: he puts his focus on being a great teammate and winning. He knows everything else will take care of itself.”
While Judge is unlikely to reach the major league single-season record of 73 home runs, many people have brushed aside that tally — held by Barry Bonds — or any home run season north of 61 home runs because all those men were embroiled in performance enhancing drug scandals and allegedly used steroids. Bonds and Sammy Sosa have denied those allegations.
Judge disagrees with that assertion. Last week, he told Sports Illustrated, “Seventy-three is the record In my book. No matter what people want to say about that era of baseball, for me, they went out there and hit 73 homers and 70 homers, and that to me is what the record is.
“[The] AL record is 61, so that is one I can kind of try to go after. If it happens, it happens. If it doesn’t, it’s been a fun year so far.”
Judge also has a real shot of joining Yankee legend Mickle Mantle — who did so in 1956 — as one of two men to hit for baseball’s Triple Crown in the season they knocked 50+ home runs out of the ballpark. Judge has clear leads in home runs and RBIs in the American League. He has traded leads with Boston’s Xander Bogaerts and Minnesota’s Luis Arráez for the batting average crown.
Despite his humble demeanor, Judge is on the verge of becoming a true New York Yankee great with this season’s historic offensive performance.
As Boone said, “I think it puts it a notch above. I got to believe it’s right there with some of the best very short list of all-time seasons.”
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CNN’s Harry Enten contributed to this report.