Aaron Judge is often calm, cool, and collected in the batter’s box, but the last couple of weeks was a different story.
Judge passed Roger Maris with his 62nd home run of the season on Tuesday night, setting a new American League record, but it surely didn’t come easy.
After he hit his 60th home run on Sept. 20, it took him eight games to hit 61, and then another six to break the record.
Now that he’s the new record holder, he can relax.
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“It’s a big relief,” Judge admitted after the feat. “I think everybody can finally sit down in their seats and watch a ball game. It’s been a fun ride so far. Getting a chance to do this with the team we’ve got, the guys surrounding me, the constant support from my family who’s been with me there through this whole thing, it’s been a great honor.”
“And also, Roger Maris Jr., him and his family supporting and being along for the ride, too… I know it’s a tough situation. Your dad’s legacy, you want to uphold that, but getting the chance to meet their family, they’re wonderful people. Getting the chance to have my name next to someone as great as Roger Maris, Babe Ruth, those guys, is incredible.”
But Judge didn’t feel pressure for himself – every time he didn’t hit a home run over the last two weeks, he felt like he was letting millions of fans and his teammates down.
“It’s tough to say, because every game is stressful,” he said when asked if he felt he had to break the record. “I kind of felt bad for my teammates, because every single at-bat, I got teammates stacked up, they’re on top of the step waiting for me to do this. I’d hit a double, or I’d walk, or I’d do something, I kinda felt like I was letting them down. Even the fans, all the fans at a packed out Yankee Stadium, and the fans that came here these past two games, I felt like I let them down if I had a 2-for-4 game or a 1-for-2 game with a couple of walks, I felt like I was letting them down.
“I never tried to think about it as pressure. I tried to enjoy every single moment and not really think about (it). (I was like) ‘hey, they’re all on their feet for you to go see you hit a home run.” Try to think about they’re here to see an exciting ballgame and see something special. So just having that mindset kind of helped me stay pretty calm. There’s definitely a little pressure in there, but you just try to block that out.”
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The clock was ticking quickly for Judge – he hit his 60th home run when the Yankees had 15 games left. It wasn’t a point of if, but more when and how much would he beat Maris by.
But then he had two separate droughts, leading to questions on whether it would happen.
It wasn’t the number of games that crept up on Judge, but rather, the time he had left on the field in each individual contest.
“The games started to go a little faster. Usually, the games kind of drag on. You’re locked in on your at-bats and defense and stuff like that, but I can’t lie, the past couple games, I’d look up, and it’s the seventh inning, and I’m like ‘damn, I only got one more at-bat. We gotta figure this out,’” he joked.
“I really never try to look at the schedule because then I think I start pressing a little bit and feel a bit of pressure, but I just try to take it one day at a time, say a prayer, go out there and just try to play my game,” added Judge. “For me, I never tried to focus on the number, never tried to focus on going out there and doing it. Just go out there and play my game, and if I’m good enough, and God willing, it’ll happen. I think just having that type of faith I think kind of helped me out throughout this whole process.”
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Judge’s name will forever be in the history books. It will take a long, long time for someone to hit 63.
However, Judge said the fans were the most memorable part of the ride.
“The fans at home, the fans on the road, the constant support. Seeing Yankee Stadium on their feet for every single at-bat – they’re booing pitchers for throwing balls, which I’ve never seen before,” he said. “I think I got a base hit the other night, and I was getting booed for a single. It’s just little moments like that, you look back on. Would’ve been great to do it at Yankee Stadium in front of our home fans, but I know a lot of Yankee fans, they travel well. There’s a lot of Yankee fans here tonight. Getting a chance to share that experience with the fans, that’s what it’s about for me.”