By Deesha Thosar
FOX Sports MLB Writer
The emotions of the past week seemed to pour out of the New York Yankees’ most beloved player when he finally made contact with No. 61.
Aaron Judge was homerless in his previous seven games, and the pressure was mounting each day that passed without a ball that left the yard. Then the Yankees’ slugger, sitting on 60 home runs on the season, took a walk around the batter’s box after he fouled off a 3-2 sinker from left-hander Tim Mayza in the seventh inning Wednesday in Toronto.
It was after that walk around the box that the magic moment finally materialized.
Aaron Judge hits 61st home run of season, tying Roger Maris for AL record
Aaron Judge crushed his 61st home run of the season on Wednesday in Toronto, tying Roger Maris for the most hit in a single season by an American League player.
Judge’s two-run shot to left field tied him with Roger Maris for the most home runs in a single season in American League history.
Judge’s mom, Patty, knew it was the one right away. Sitting in the stands at Rogers Centre, her unbroken smile grew wider as Judge’s historic home run traveled 394 feet. Sitting beside Patty was Roger Maris Jr., who, just like Judge’s mom, was in attendance for these past eight games and counting, patiently waiting for the special occasion.
“I was hoping it got over the fence,” Judge told YES Network on the field. “It’s an incredible honor. There’s a lot of emotions. It took me a little longer than I wanted to. Getting the chance to put two runs on the board … get another win, this was something special.”
Sixty-one years ago, Maris broke Babe Ruth’s record of 60 home runs by blasting his 61st dinger of the year in the Yankees’ final game of the regular season. A few decades later, Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa passed Maris and set new records, with Bonds’ 73 homers in 2001 still standing as the most in a season in Major League Baseball history.
But until Wednesday, Maris stood alone as the AL home-run leader.
When Judge launched home run No. 50 one month ago, the big blast came in a Yankees loss. Judge, a team-first player through and through, couldn’t — and wouldn’t — enjoy that homer. Afterward, he kept telling reporters that the home run didn’t matter. The individual accomplishment was meaningless to him without a team win. It was appropriate then that his record-tying 61st home run broke a tied game with the Blue Jays and gave the Yankees a 5-3 lead in an eventual 8-3 victory.
The smile that took over and the emotions that showed as he rounded the bases were rare for Judge. They were the first real signs that maybe, just maybe, the gravity of the past week had actually gotten to him. Not that anyone could tell. Judge handled the pressure, the endless questions and the immense attention with humor, class and ease.
All last week during the Yankees’ penultimate homestand of the regular season, thousands of fans flooded the South Bronx and swarmed into Yankee Stadium hoping to watch Judge make history. Few players can stay true to their approach at the plate with a backdrop of more than 45,000 people chanting their name and living and dying with every pitch.
But Judge was and is one of those players. His line-drive, two-run shot Wednesday symbolized all the effort, passion and pure might that go into smashing 61 home runs.
The Yankees wouldn’t be where they are — one day removed from clinching the AL East for the first time since 2019 — without Judge’s offensive prowess. He leads nearly every statistical category in the major leagues, including OPS (1.119), slugging (.696), runs scored (128) and, of course, home runs. He has a serious shot at the Triple Crown, which would entail finishing the season with the highest batting average, the most runs batted in and the most home runs in the AL.
Judge has maintained throughout this season that while the Yankees are looking for their 28th championship in franchise history, he will not focus on personal achievements. But even if just for one moment, as Judge’s teammates piled out of the visitors dugout to hug and congratulate the heartbeat of their team, perhaps he could finally acknowledge that the moment was about him — and it will be for some time.
After all, his 61 home runs are the stuff Cooperstown greats are made of, and he still has seven games and 30 or so at-bats to push his success as far as it can possibly go.
On Wednesday, with the world watching, Judge answered the call. There’s still time to sit back, relax and watch what the once-in-a-generation baseball player will write into the history books next.
“I’m playing a kid’s game,” Judge said postgame Wednesday. “I love this.”
Deesha Thosar is an MLB writer for FOX Sports. She previously covered the Mets for the New York Daily News. Follow her on Twitter at @DeeshaThosar.
Get more from Major League Baseball Follow your favorites to get information about games, news and more.