A tense and unusual calm prevailed over Yankee Stadium at a time that, under normal circumstances, would have made a thunderous noise. The game was close in the ninth inning as the Yankees faced the Boston Red Sox, their fiercest opponent, and the bass player everyone came to see was stepping into the batting box.
With the hit, Aaron Judge needed one more home run to equal Roger Maris’ MLS record of 61 in a season, and a crowd of more than 43,000 seemed to be holding their breath.
As the judge stared at Matt Barnes, a member of the Red Sox elimination squad, the fans stood and swerved forward as well, intensely focused on the moment as if they had forgotten to cheer.
“I noticed it,” Red Sox manager Alex Cora said of the lack of noise. “I mean, everyone noticed it. It was very quiet in every stadium.”
Many fans were clutching their camera phones to record what they hoped would turn into a historic moment, perhaps lending that eerie lack of applause, especially in the area behind the house plate. But then the judge undid his huge swing on a high speed ball at 96 mph, sending the ball up in the air and deeper toward the center of the field.
The silence briefly turned to a roar before calming down again when Boston quarterback Kiki Hernandez settled under the ball. He picked it up on the Warning Track a few feet from Monument Park, where there is a plaque honoring the Maris along with all the other Yankees greats.
“I thought it would be flashy to leave it in Monument Park there,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said of the long trip.
That wasn’t the case, and the judge, who was 0 for 2 with a strike and three walks, frustratingly stayed Homer behind Maris’ coveted mark. But after the first half after Judge came short, Josh Donaldson cut one to the left, Marwin Gonzalez scored and gave the Yankees a dramatic 5-4 win. It was their eighth win in ten games, and with it the team snatched at least one wild card in the post-season this year.
With Toronto’s loss to Tampa Bay on Thursday, the Yankees’ lead over the Blue Jays in the American Eastern League grew to seven and a half games with 13 games, yet their post-game celebration was rather muted.
“Our ultimate goal is to win the degree and prepare ourselves for post-season,” Judge said, adding that he didn’t think he took the ball off Barnes well enough to get out. “But this is the first of many steps to come, that’s for sure.”
Before the match, Cora promised the Red Sox would challenge the judge, saying they wouldn’t be looking to purposely walk with him, or go around him either. But fans certainly felt that was the case in the first half, when veteran Boston player Michael Wacha walked the Judge on four pitches, prompting constant boos from the crowd.
Judge came into the game 0-for-14 against Wacha, with 9 attacking hits, so Wacha had every reason to feel confident in his ability to take out Judge, even if the Yankee tops the MLS on average hitting, at 0.316.
Wacha walked Judge again in the third inning, which led to more boos, but Cora and Wacha dismissed the idea that it was intentional, blaming Wacha for suffering from mechanics, which led to control problems.
“Absolutely not,” Washa said as to whether the lanes were on purpose or not. “I don’t like walking up front, and I don’t like hitting guys. That’s kind of my MO in good promotion, is attacking guys.”
Fans were skeptical, and their frustration grew with every ball being thrown out of the area. Cora noted that Judge, the all-around talent on the board, is an expert at layoffs for shoddy pitches.
Korra’s declaration of her intentions prior to that match, that they would advance to the Judge, was finally proven in Match 5, when Wacha went hard on a knockout with the 1st, 2nd and 1st runners. The judge crossed out the swing at 1-2 change. This was the 10th time in 15 careers at bat that Watcha had brought the judge back to the bunker in this way.
On the seventh, Boston loyalist John Schreiber gave up a poor lead to Kyle Higashioka, meaning the judge would come to the plate with the first open base and the Red Sox lead, 4-3. It was not the time to brag. The wise thing to do was walk with the Judge, and Schreiber did it in five cautious pitches.
Barnes took charge on the ninth and confronted the judge with the rules blank and one, later saying he had never thought of going around it.
“With all due respect to Aaron Judge, he’s a great guy and he’s been having an incredible season,” Barnes said, “I’m trying to get him out. I honestly don’t care about history. We have a game to win and if you give up on Homer, the ball game is over.”
The judge, whose pursuit of baseball was captivated, did not contribute any hits, but did provide a superb defensive play with a draw in the ninth inning, demonstrating his overall skill on the baseball field. Tommy Pham picked right and made the mistake of challenging Judge’s arm by trying to extend it into a double. Judge grabbed the ball and made a laser throw for second, which Cora referred to as the type of play offered by a player hoping to win the MVP award.
The teams are scheduled to meet three more times at Yankee Stadium, and depending on Thursday’s meeting, the judge may see a stadium or two to hit, but may not. Boston is at the end of a bad season in which they will not be in the playoffs, but Cora insisted the team was still trying to win. This means challenging the judge when the time is right, and being careful when the time is not.
The match was on the line, and we played with it,” Cora said almost defiantly. “It’s not about being cocky or, ‘That’s what we do.’ But it’s what we do, and it’s really good at laying off the pitches.”
Tyler Kepner And the Jesus Jimenez Contribute to the preparation of reports.