All rise for the 50th: Judge breaks rookie home run mark
By LARRY FLEISHER The Sports Xchange
New York Yankees right fielder Aaron Judge gestures after hitting his record-breaking 50th home run against the Kansas City Royals during the seventh inning of Monday afternoon's game at Yankee Stadium. (Gregory J. Fisher-USA TODAY Sports)
NEW YORK — Six months ago, the New York Yankees thought if Aaron Judge could consistently get the barrel of the bat on pitches, many of those swings would result in home runs and other big hits.
Maybe not 50 home runs, but enough for Judge to be a productive run producer.
Judge became a record-breaking home run hitter Monday afternoon when, in the third inning, he tied Mark McGwire’s rookie mark for homers. He then broke the record in the seventh as the Yankees beat the Kansas City Royals 11-3 during a makeup game.
“I really didn’t know what to expect,” said New York manager Joe Girardi, who didn’t name Judge the starting right fielder until the last week of spring training. “As we got to spring training, what I said is if he gets the barrel to the ball he’s going to do a lot of damage, and if he does it on a consistent basis he’s going to have a huge year for us. And that’s what he’s done.”
Judge tied McGwire’s 1987 record by hitting a full-count fastball from Jakob Junis (8-3) into the back rows of the lower portion of the right-center field seats with one out in the third. Judge tied McGwire after looking at a called strike two and thinking he walked.
Judge reached 49 in his 150th game and 525th at-bat. McGwire did it in 151 games and 547 at-bats.
In his first attempt at getting the 50th homer, Judge struck out with a runner on third in the fifth.
Judge emphatically broke McGwire’s mark in his next at-bat, hitting a 2-1 breaking ball from Trevor Cahill into the left-center field seats and clearing the Royals bullpen, giving the Yankees a 7-3 lead.
“It’s been an incredible ride, this whole year,” Judge said.
Judge became the fifth Yankee to reach 50 homers and did so in his 527th at-bat, earning a curtain call from fans at Yankee Stadium after his teammates encouraged it.
“I think if there’s a player deserving of a curtain call, I think what he did today, reaching that milestone, I think he deserved to go out,” Girardi said.”
Said Judge: “First curtain call, I hope it was a good one.”
The 25-year-old wound up getting both home run balls back and said he will give them to his parents.
It was his fourth multi-homer game in the last 14 contests and seventh of the season.
It also earned him emphatic endorsement for the American League MVP award from CC Sabathia.
“One thousand percent,” Sabathia said when asked if Judge should be the MVP.
“What he’s done, 50 home runs, carrying this team to the playoffs, we can honestly say we’re in this spot because of him.”
Besides the homers, Judge increased his RBI total to 108 and reached 124 runs. It is the third-best rookie RBI total in team history, trailing Hall of Famers Tony Lazzeri (114 in 1926) and Joe DiMaggio (125 in 1936).
Judge’s milestone homers were among four blasts by the Yankees, who won for the 17th time in 24 games and can clinch home-field advantage in next Tuesday’s wild-card game with a win or a loss by the Minnesota Twins today.
Greg Bird hit a two-run homer to give the Yankees a 6-0 lead in the sixth and Gary Sanchez hit his 33rd while Judge was conducting his curtain call.
Didi Gregorius hit a run-scoring groundout in the first inning, scored on Matt Holliday’s double in the sixth and added an RBI single in the eighth. Holliday drove in New York’s final run with a sacrifice fly.
Judge came up in the eighth after Brett Gardner’s RBI double but drew his 120th walk and was lifted for a pinch runner.
“He’s had a tremendous year,” Kansas City manager Ned Yost said. “It’s very impressive what he’s able to do.”
Salvador Perez hit a two-run homer and Mike Moustakas extended his team record with his 38th homer for the Royals, who will be officially eliminated from postseason contention with their next loss or a Minnesota win today.
Sabathia (13-5) improved to 9-0 after a Yankees loss this season by allowing three runs on six hits in six-plus innings. He also improved to 4-0 since returning from a brief disabled list stint due a knee injury on Aug. 19.