ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) — Aaron Judge took a smooth, powerful swing, then burst into a big smile as he trotted around the bases. On the way home, his teammates backed off and let him touch the plate alone.
Finally, the New York Yankees slugger had the American League home run record all to himself.
Judge hit his 62nd homerun of the season on Tuesday-evening, breaking Roger Maris’ American League-record and what some fans consider to be the “clean” standard of baseball.
After hitting his helmet in a rare expression of frustration when he went without a homer in the first game of the Texas doubleheader, Judge hit the third throw of the nightcap on the front row of left field seats.
That trip around the bases after a long chase was certainly a mixture of pure joy and relief for number 99, whose lone homerun in the previous 13 games had been when he equalized Maris’ 61 last Wednesday in Toronto.
Barry Bonds has the Major League-record 73 home runs, set with the San Francisco Giants in 2001.
The judges milestone ball was caught by Cory Youmans of Dallas, who was in Section 31. When asked what he was going to do with the ball while being taken away with security to verify the ball, Youmans replied: “Good question. I haven’t thought about it.”
Another fan was led away after jumping over the railing into a gap between the seats and the left field wall.
Almost as soon as Judge made a 1-1 slider from Texas righthander Jesús Tinoco, his Yankees teammates poured out of the dugout to celebrate with him. But they stayed away from home plate and let him go on it before sharing hugs and high-fives.
Judge’s mom and dad were in the stands to watch the 30-year-old outfielder end a five-game homerless streak, including Tuesday’s earlier game when he singled 1 for 5.
The Maris family wasn’t in Texas after they followed Judge for a while, but Roger Maris Jr. tweeted“Congratulations to Aaron Judge and his family on Aaron’s historic home run number 62! It was certainly 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 took his place in right field, he was wearing the glove and cap of first baseman DJ LeMahieu, who patted him on the back.
The fans in right field cheered Judge loudly as he warmed up by tossing a ball back and forth with midfielder Harrison Bader. Judge then provided another souvenir ball when he tossed the ball he’d warmed up several rows deep.
Judge, who qualified to become a free agent after this season, struckout a full-count pitch when he struckout again in the second.
He took his place in right field in the bottom of the inning before manager Aaron Boone took him out of the game. Oswaldo Cabrera, who had been on second base, moved to right field and the slugger got another loud ovation as he chased back to the Yankees dugout on the side of third base.
The response soon came from well beyond the margins.
“History made, more history to be made,” President Joe Biden posted on Twitter.
Former Yankees star Derek Jeter tweeted: “Congratulations @TheJudge44 with 62! Postseason next!!!”
Former President Bill Clinton also tweeted congratulations, as did former MLB players such as Paul O’Neill, Dwight Gooden, Dave Winfield and Ryan Howard.
Maris’ 61 for the Yankees had previously been exceeded six times, but all were contaminated by the stench of steroids. Along with Bonds’ record, Mark McGwire reached 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 period from 1998.
McGwire admitted to using banned steroids, while Bonds and Sosa knowingly denied using performance-enhancing drugs. Major League Baseball began testing with penalties for PEDs in 2004, and some fans—perhaps many—have regarded Maris as the legitimate record holder until now.
A Ruthian figure with a smile as big as his body, the six-foot-tall Judge has rocked the big leagues with a series of deep rides that listen to the sepia-colored film reels of his legendary pinstripe predecessors.
The Texas double-headed nightcap was his 55th straight game Judge played since August 5.
He had gone 3 for 17 with five walks and one hit per pitch since breaking the 60 home runs that Babe Ruth hit in 1927, which had been the Major League record for 34 years. Maris hit his 61st off Boston’s Tracy Stallard at the old Yankee Stadium on October 1, 1961.
Judge has the chance to become the first AL Triple Crown winner since Detroit’s Miguel Cabrera in 2012. He leads the AL with 131 RBIs and started the day behind Luis Arraez of Minnesota, who batted .315.
With the homerun and strikeout in Game 2, he hit .311, right where he started the day before dropping a run in the opener.
Judge’s feat will cause endless discussions.
“To me, Roger Maris is the holder of the record for home runs in a season,” said author George Will earlier this month. “There is no suspicion that in Judge’s case we see better baseball than better chemistry. He’s clean. He doesn’t do anything that forces other players to put their health at risk.”