New York Yankees slugger Aaron Judge blasted his 61st home run of the season on Wednesday to equal the legendary Roger Maris’s longstanding American League record.
Judge, who has been motoring towards Maris’s record all season, had been stuck on 60 home runs after failing to homer in seven straight games and 33 at bats.
But the 30-year-old power-hitter ended his drought in spectacular fashion on Wednesday, crushing a 394-foot two-run homer on a 3-2 count from Toronto pitcher Tim Mayza in the seventh inning to give New York a 5-3 lead.
Judge’s record-equaling blast brought the Rogers Centre crowd to its feet for a rousing ovation as Yankees players gathered at home plate to congratulate the right fielder as he rounded the bases.
“I was just trying to start a rally and get something going,” Judge said afterwards. “Luckily I got a pitch over the plate and was able to put a good swing on it.
“I was hoping it got over the fence. I didn’t know at first. It’s an incredible honour. There’s a lot of emotions. It took me a bit longer than I wanted it to. But it’s something pretty special.”
Judge added that he had been taken aback to be greeted by his teammates at home plate.
“I wasn’t expecting it,” Judge said after the Yankees 8-3 victory. “You never know what the guys are going to do.
“But seeing the love from my teammates, who I show up to work with every single day, to be able to share that moment with them is tough to describe.”
‘Love these moments’
“I’m playing a kids’ game. I love these moments. Those are the moments you live for,” Judge said.
Yankees legend Maris — whose son Roger Maris Jr. was on hand to witness Judge’s homer — set his single season American League record of 61 home runs in the 1961 season.
That record stood as the best single season home record tally for all of Major League Baseball before it was surpassed multiple times by Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire during baseball’s notorious steroid era in the late 1990s.
Barry Bonds, who was also heavily implicated in the infamous BALCO drug scandal, holds the outright single season record of 73 home runs set in 2001.
Yankees manager Aaron Boone believes that Judge’s achievements this season rank above the benchmarks set by the likes of Sosa, McGwire and Bonds.
“I think it puts it a notch above,” Boone said of Judge’s achievement last week.
“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.”
Judge, meanwhile, has distanced himself from suggestions that his homer tally deserves to be recognised as the “real” all-time record given the asterisk against the steroid-era totals of Sosa, McGwire and Bonds.
“73 is the record in my book,” Judge said in a recent interview with Sports Illustrated.
“No matter what people want to say about that era of baseball, for me, they went out there and hit 73 homers and that to me is what the record is,” added Judge, who grew up in Northern California as a fan of Bonds and the Giants.
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