Aaron Judge took a smooth, mighty swing, then broke into a big smile as he trotted around the bases. Heading home, his teammates backed away, letting him touch the plate alone.
At last, the New York Yankees slugger had the American League home run record all to himself.
Judge hit his 62nd home run of the season Tuesday night in Arlington, Texas, breaking Roger Maris’ American League record and setting what some fans consider baseball’s “clean” standard.
After slamming his helmet in a rare show of frustration when he went without a homer in the first game of the doubleheader in Texas, Judge hit the third pitch of the nightcap into the first row of seats in left field.
That trip around the bases after a long chase was certainly a mixture of pure joy and relief for No. 99, whose only homer in the previous 13 games had been when he tied Maris’ 61 last Wednesday in Toronto.
Judge did it just in time, too, homering on the next-to-last day of the regular season.
Barry Bonds holds the major league record of 73 home runs, set with the San Francisco Giants in 2001.
Judge’s milestone ball was caught by Cory Youmans of Dallas, who was sitting in Section 31. When asked what he was going to do with the ball while being taken away with security to have the ball authenticated, Youmans responded, “Good question. I haven’t thought about it.”
Another fan was escorted away after leaping over the rail into a gap between the seats and the left-field wall.
Almost as soon as Judge connected on a 1-1 slider from Texas right-hander Jesús Tinoco, his Yankees teammates streamed out of the dugout to celebrate with him. But they stayed away from home plate — leaving him to step on it before sharing hugs and high-fives.
New York wound up losing 3-2 after winning the opener 5-4. With one game left in the regular season, the split left the Yankees with a fitting 99-62 record — Judge’s number and his home run total.
Judge’s mother and father were in the stands to see the 30-year-old outfielder end a five-game homerless streak, including the earlier game Tuesday when he was 1 for 5 with a single.
The Maris family wasn’t in Texas after following Judge around for a while, but Roger Maris Jr. tweeted, “Congratulations to Aaron Judge and his family on Aaron’s historic home run number 62! It has definitely been a baseball season to remember. You are all class and someone who should be revered. For the MAJORITY of the fans, we can now celebrate a new CLEAN HOME RUN KING!!”
When the top of the first ended, and Judge went to take his place in right field, he carried the glove and cap of first baseman DJ LeMahieu, who patted him on the back.
The fans in right field cheered Judge loudly while he warmed up by tossing a ball back and forth with center fielder Harrison Bader. Judge then provided another souvenir ball when he tossing the one he had warmed up with several rows deep.
Judge, eligible to become a free agent after this season, struck out on a full-count pitch when batting again in the second.
He took his spot right field in the bottom of the inning before manager Aaron Boone pulled him from the game. Oswaldo Cabrera, who had been at second base, moved to right field and the slugger got another loud ovation as he jogged back to the Yankees dugout on the third base side.
Reaction quickly came from far beyond the ballpark.
“History made, more history to make,” President Joe Biden posted on Twitter.
Tweeted former Yankees star Derek Jeter: “Congrats @TheJudge44 on 62! Postseason next!!!”
Former President Bill Clinton also tweeted congratulations, as did former MLB players like Paul O’Neill, Dwight Gooden, Dave Winfield and Ryan Howard.
Maris’ 61 for the Yankees had been exceeded six times previously, but all were tainted by the stench of steroids. Along with Bonds’ record, Mark McGwire hit 70 for the St. Louis Cardinals in 1998 and 65 the following year. Sammy Sosa had 66, 65 and 63 for the Chicago Cubs during a four-season span starting in 1998.
McGwire admitted using banned steroids, while Bonds and Sosa denied knowingly using performing-enhancing drugs. Major League Baseball started testing with penalties for PEDs in 2004, and some fans — perhaps many — until now have considered Maris as holder of the legitimate record.
A Ruthian figure with a smile as outsized as his body, the 6-foot-7 Judge has rocked the major leagues with a series of deep drives that hearken to the sepia tone movie reels of his legendary pinstriped predecessors.
The doubleheader nightcap in Texas was his 55th game in row Judge had played since Aug. 5.
He had gone 3 for 17 with five walks and a hit by pitch since moving past the 60 home runs Babe Ruth hit in 1927, which had stood as the major league record for 34 years. Maris hit his 61st off Boston’s Tracy Stallard at old Yankee Stadium on Oct. 1, 1961.
Judge has a chance to become the first AL Triple Crown winner since Detroit’s Miguel Cabrera in 2012. He leads the AL with 131 RBIs and began the day trailing Minnesota’s Luis Arraez, who was hitting .315.
With the home run and the strikeout in Game 2, he was hitting .311, right where he had started the day before dropping a point in the opener.
Judge’s accomplishment will cause endless debate.
“To me, the holder of the record for home runs in a season is Roger Maris,” author George Will said earlier this month. “There’s no hint of suspicion that we’re seeing better baseball than better chemistry in the case of Judge. He’s clean. He’s not doing something that forces other players to jeopardize their health.”
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Stephen Hawkins, The Associated Press