Aaron Judge has done it. He’s all but officially solidified his AL MVP campaign. He’s etched his name one last time into the history books this regular season. The New York Yankees star hit his 62nd home run of the year against the Texas Rangers on Tuesday night in Game 161.
It was becoming irksome, though, as the buildup from Sept. 28 was mounting. Every one of his at-bats was publicized, and anything short of a home run resulted in unnecessary and unfounded frustration. Why is anybody mad? This is like any other baseball game. You’re just expecting — needing! — the home run.
After HRs No. 60 and 61, Judge went 22 plate appearances without a long ball. Between 60 and 61, it was 32 plate appearances. Both stretches felt interminable, but for a normal major leaguer — even one of Judge’s caliber — it was nothing but normal. Hitting is hard. Hitting home runs is harder.
It felt like an amateurish consumption of one of the hardest tasks in one of the hardest sports, which made it all the more unpleasant.
But it’s all over. The weight has been lifted. Judge is your new AL single-season home run leader after he officially passed Roger Maris.
Yankees star Aaron Judge has broken the AL single-season home run record
And don’t you worry! Everyone will forget that opener Jesus Tinoco surrendered that one, for all the previous pitchers gravely concerned about being remembered as the sad sap who allowed the record-breaking blast.
As for college football fans? You’re safe. You can watch 2nd and 22 from your own six-yard line with 7:53 left in the second quarter of a game you’re trailing 14-3. Whew, that was close.
On a happier note, Judge rounded the bases, his mother let out a huge sigh of relief as a spectator in the stands, and his teammates gathered around to hug him and congratulate him before he returned to the dugout. What a moment. Like we’ve said before, this home run chase has united the Yankees in more ways than you could ever detail.
The Yankees have dealt with pressure — constantly — since 2017, which was Judge’s rookie season. He’s no stranger to the spotlight and the demanding media. He knows the stakes. And he’s been the team’s unquestioned leader over that span, with no better example than what he’s accomplished this season. The way he handled his contract situation. The way he backed his play up on the field. The way he picked up his teammates who struggled or fell short. The way he handled the media when the Yankees were enduring the worst stretch of baseball of anyone in MLB in August.
Judge mapped this out himself, too. In the arbitration process, he negotiated a $500K bonus for winning AL MVP and another $500K bonus for winning World Series MVP. He brought the historic pressure to the Yankees with this home run chase and relieved them of it by following through and capping the journey with this unforgettable blast.
The historic chase continues, though. The postseason is a week away. The only difference this time is that the Yankees may be uniquely built to handle the complexities and one-of-a-kind tension October baseball presents after falling short countless times since the turn of the century.
They just played an entire month of baseball fighting back to make up for the lost ground in August all the while Judge’s every move was followed. Can’t say many teams in modern history — if any — were forced to face that.
Throw in the inherent pressure that comes with being a Yankee, and Judge has almost conquered it all. There’s one goal left remaining. Judge said it himself. The job isn’t done yet.