ARLINGTON, Texas — New York Yankees outfielder Aaron Judge, who circled the bases with his mind in a haze three hours earlier Tuesday evening, was now on the field, still trying to comprehend the historic moment.
He became the Yankees’ all-time single-season home run king at 7:08 p.m. Central time, and now was on the Globe Life Field, trying to explain to everyone what it meant to set the all-time American League record with 62 homers in a season, more than any Yankees player who ever lived.
“It’s a big relief,’’ Judge said. “It’s been a fun ride, getting a chance to do this. Getting a chance to have your name next to someone as great as Roger Maris and Babe Ruth and those guys is incredible.’’
Judge walked down the corridor after the game, holding the hand of his newlywed wife, Samantha, with his dad and mom, proudly wearing a Judge jersey, trailing him, and spent 12 minutes answering questions about the significance of the night.
Judge walked out of the press conference, clutching his wife’s hand again, and entered the field again in front of the Yankees dugout. A fan still remaining from the sellout crowd of 38,832 started screaming his name from across the field. Judge turned around and acknowledged him.
It was time to take pictures for posterity. He posed with his wife; then his wife and parents; then wife, parents and agents; and then with his wife, parents and agents and family friends.
Next up were the TV commitments. He spoke to the Yankees’ TV network, YES. Then the MLB Network. And next, ESPN.
He did his last interview when he looked to his left, and standing on the field holding his game tickets, pleading for an autograph and an autographed jersey, was Dallas Cowboys linebacker Micah Parsons, the 2021 NFL defensive rookie of the year. He rushed over, and had Judge sign his tickets. He got pictures. He got a baseball autographed. Yankee starter Gerrit Cole, who set the Yankee strikeout record earlier in the game, walked onto the field, and then there were more pictures with the three of them, and more autographs.
Parsons blurted out: “I’m just a fan of greatness.’’
My God, aren’t we all?
Judge walked into the clubhouse at 10:57 Tuesday morning, wearing a black T-shirt, “New York or Nowhere,’’ black jeans and black and lime tennis shoes, chasing history.
He walked back into the clubhouse at 10:41 Tuesday night as a Yankee hero, going where Mickey Mantle, Babe Ruth and Roger Maris had never gone before.
He now is on the Mount Rushmore of baseball’s greatest single-season home run hitters, joining Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa.
Judge is also the only one who ever hit 62 home runs not tainted with performance-enhancing drug allegations, leaving Roger Maris Jr. to tweet: “For the majority of the fans, we can now celebrate a new clean home run king.’’
The history books will show that Bonds is the home-run king with 73, which Judge also views as the all-time record, but he’ll forever be remembered as the man who broke an American League record that stood for 61 years, going where no Yankee great went before him.
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“It’s really tough to hit home runs,’’ said teammate Josh Donaldson, the 2015 AL MVP, who never hit more than 41 homers in a season. “Obviously, not for him.’’
The Yankees quietly celebrated the historic night with champagne toasts. First for Cole, and then with Judge, with the two each speaking, and Judge profusely thanking them for being along for the ride and supporting them.
“I just wanted it to happen so bad,’’ Cole said. “I don’t know if that’s pressing, or it’s just hoping hard. We were all just hoping really hard.
“He was not trying to get the record for himself. He was trying to get the record for his teammates, and for the Yankee fans.’’
Judge didn’t want to admit it at the time, but the past two weeks have been tough. He hit his 60th home run two weeks ago, and went the next 13 games and 58 plate appearances with only one. He was being booed when he hit singles instead of homers. The opposing pitchers were booed at every walk. The scrutiny was relentless.
And time was running out with only two remaining games on the Yankees’ schedule.
“I really never tried to look at the schedule,’’ Judge said, “because then I think I started pressing a little bit, you know, feel a little bit of pressure. I just tried to take it one day at a time, and say a prayer, go out there and just try to play my game. I never tried to focus on the number. I never tried to focus on going out there and do it.
“I think just having that type of faith I think kind of helped me out through this whole process.’’
The glorious moment finally arrived on the third pitch in the first inning. Texas Rangers pitcher Jesus Tinoco, on the third pitch, threw an 88.4-mph slider. Judge swung, and the crowd gasped, almost willing it to clear the wall. Rangers left fielder Bubba Thompson went back, to the fence, and the crowd erupted as it sailed 19 feet over his head. It landed 391 feet away in Section 31, Row 1, Seat 3.
The ball was caught by Dallas resident Cory Youmans, who told a pack of TV reporters trailing him that he didn’t know what he would do with the ball. Yankees officials never had a chance to talk to him and offer an exchange. He left the building clutching a baseball worth an estimated $2 million.
Judge, of course, says he would like to have the historic ball, but no matter, nothing was going to tarnish this moment.
He did his job.
He chased history all summer.
And on the evening of Oct. 4, deep in the heart of Texas, made history.
Judge circled the bases, thinking about his wife, parents, friends, teammates, and everyone who played a role along the way. He was greeted by third-base coach Luis Rojas with a salute, stepped on home plate with his left foot, and then was mobbed, first by Giancarlo Stanton, then Donaldson, and player after player lining up to hug him.
“It was pretty surreal,’’ Judge said, “pretty, pretty awesome. I think finally seeing them around the field, you know, getting a chance to hug them, all they're saying congratulations because that's what's about me, you know those those guys are grinding with me every single day and they've been along this journey. You know through the ups and downs and get a chance to share that moment with them on the field was pretty special.’’
Now, Judge hopes, normalcy can return. Fans can cheer for the Yankees to win, and not just for him to hit homers. Reporters can stop asking his teammates whether he feels the pressure. Fans can stop taking pictures and shooting videos every time he steps to the plate.
“Everybody can finally sit down in their seats,’’ he said, “and watch a ballgame.’’
Judge, who spoke quietly in front of his locker Monday evening, couldn’t believe fans were always watching the game through their camera phones, more interested in recording potential history instead of enjoying the moment.
“That’s the one thing I hate,’’ he said. “When I look back at the '80s and '90s and see those games, there’s not a single person doing that. Everybody is locked in and watching, from the bleachers to behind home plate.’’
But, throughout his home run chase, he laughed, fans were ducking in and grabbing lobster and sushi every game in between his at-bats. The only time they really paid close attention was when he was getting into the on-deck circle, and then left their seats each time his at-bat ended.
Now, with the Yankees opening the playoffs on Oct. 11 against the winner of the Tampa Bay Rays-Cleveland Guardians series, the attention can shift. His wife, family and agents who have followed him from New York to Toronto to Texas, can finally go home, empty their suitcases, and relax before coming to see him in the postseason.
Judge apologized to them Tuesday in between games of the doubleheader for taking so long. Hey, who’s complaining? His folks, Patty and Wayne, are retired school teachers, and they said they always want to check Globe Life Field off their baseball bucket list of ballparks.
“They love it,’’ Judge said. “They love it. They really wanted to come to the stadium. I’m a big fan of this place. The whole setup.’’
Now, it will always have a special place in not only the heart of the Judge family, but every Yankee fan, baseball fan, and sports fan. When you have President Joe Biden, former president Bill Clinton, and Yankees great Derek Jeter sending congratulatory notes, you know you’re making an impact.
“For them to tweet things out, say things like that,’’ Judge says, “there's no higher honor in my book. ...It gives me chills to be honest.’’
It was about 11 Central Time when Judge walked out of the ballpark with his wife and family. His teammates were long gone. The stands were empty. But the emotions, sentiments and splendor of this night were overflowing everywhere around him.
It was a night, Judge quietly said, that he’ll never forget.
Follow Bob Nightengale on Twitter @Bnightengale.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Aaron Judge goes where Babe Ruth and Roger Maris had never gone before