NEW YORK — As members of the greatest teams in recent Yankees history milled about in Monument Park on Saturday afternoon, inspecting the plaques and retired numbers, one name continued to spill from their lips. Those assembled alumni marveled at the special season Aaron Judge is enjoying, while also wondering aloud about his pinstriped future.
The favorite for the American League Most Valuable Player Award, Judge continued to show he can keep pace with legends and everyone else, becoming the second-fastest player in AL/NL history to blast 200 career home runs in the Bombers’ 8-2 victory over the Royals at Yankee Stadium.
“It’s great; a lot of hard work with a lot of people over the years to get to this point,” Judge said. “I’m excited to get that out of the way, plus we got a win, so just keep it rolling.”
Judge’s Major League-leading 42nd home run was his 12th long ball in 14 games, the most in a 14-game span in franchise history. He eclipsed Babe Ruth (41 homers in 1928) for the most home runs ever hit by a Yankee before Aug. 1, amid a surge that puts Judge on track to shatter Roger Maris’ American League single-season record of 61 home runs, which was set in 1961.
“You can’t look at it,” said Judge, who is on pace to hit 66 homers over a 162-game schedule. “I’ve just got to keep working hard, keep my head down and do what I can to help this team win games. At the end of the year, we can talk about what we finish at.”
Judge’s second-inning, two-run blast off right-hander Jonathan Heasley came in his 671st career game. Only Ryan Howard (658 games) reached the milestone faster than Judge, who also joined Jorge Posada (275), Derek Jeter (260) and Don Mattingly (222) as the only players drafted by the Yankees to hit 200 or more homers with the franchise.
“I told him, ‘You’ll see that home run a lot for the rest of your life,’” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said. “When they’re marking back from whatever the final number ends up being, they’ll go back and say, ‘Here was his 200th of him.’ It was a wall-scraper for him, but he smoked it. I told him, ‘The right fielder would have been moving in if I hit that same ball.’”
Matt Carpenter also hit his 15th homer of the season as the Yankees took advantage of a sloppy three-error Kansas City performance, supporting five solid innings from left-hander Nestor Cortes, who held the Royals to two runs on five hits. Cortes, too, frequently finds himself shifting into fan mode when watching Judge in the batter’s box.
“Every night, everybody is expecting a home run from him. I mean, we are,” said Cortes, who improved to 3-0 with a 2.60 ERA over his last five starts.
That was true for the alumni as well. They cheered the Yanks’ 69th win from a suite three decks above the field, having assembled for the 12th Old-Timers’ Day at the current Yankee Stadium and the first since 2019, marveling at Judge’s past, present and future.
“I’m just so proud of him,” said former infielder Willie Randolph. “I got a chance to spend some time with him in Spring Training. We got together and talked about a lot of different things, just baseball in general. The way he stepped up, I’m not really surprised. But he’s having a phenomenal year. I just hope that he continues to stay healthy.”
Former first baseman Tino Martinez said that he believes Judge can surpass Maris’ record.
“As long as they keep pitching to him, I believe he can do it,” Martinez said. “He’s got a short swing. He puts the ball to bat and it goes a long way. If he keeps doing what he’s doing, I think he will get there.”
Added Randolph: “’I’m surprised they pitch to him as much as they do. I mean, what are you doing? The guy’s 6-foot-7; you don’t notice he’s here?”
Bernie Williams, who posed for camera phone selfies in front of his Monument Park plaque before the game, said he senses Judge “feels the allure and greatness of remaining a Yankee.” Assuming he and the club strike a contract extension, Williams can picture a day when Judge claims a plaque of his own from him.
“Every time I see him talking on TV, he just says the right things all the time,” Williams said. “He’s a good ambassador for the team. I think if he signs a long-term deal, he’s probably in line to be the next captain. There’s no doubt about that in my mind.”
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism