MILWAUKEE — Everyone around Aaron Judge has marveled at what he’s been doing this season — everyone but Judge himself. He does not stop to think. He simply continues, writing down numbers that might end up in the record books.
His teammates find it hard to believe. And why should they? No one has ever broken a home run record and won a triple crown in the same season, and both are there for the judge. A few more runs on his batting average, with a few more home runs sprinkled in and he’d be first.
But while Judge’s exploits are the talk of the Yankees clubhouse – interrupted briefly to debate whether the team’s hotel, The Pfister, is filled with ghosts (some wonder) – he claims to pay no attention to the hunt or the story. . And with Judge, you believe it.
You see it going the other way. You see him get the big single when the Yankees need it. He doesn’t dwell on numbers, only wins and losses. Her hair stays intact too.
“I’m just playing the game I love. I never played the game for stats, or to see how I stack up in certain categories,” Judge told The Post after the Yankees lost to the Brewers in a Friday night thriller (and then followed up with a 4-1 loss on Saturday night). “I play to win. Having this state of mind motivates me.
No matter how he does it, it works. He was asked to play in the middle of the pitch, an obvious weakness of the team, and he did it beautifully. He was asked to play the lead, and he became the greatest leadoff hitter in big league history, and also one of the best, and he did it without advice or question. He was asked to play every day, of course. Manager Aaron Boone admits he just can’t give Judge a day off, not with the Yankees’ impenetrable lead in the AL East slipping. The judge does too. The idea that the judge is the one who is subject to injury is old news and a mistake.
A lineup without Judge, who didn’t homer but still went 1-for-3 with a brace and a walk in Saturday’s loss, is unimaginable now.
It helps that Giancarlo Stanton is back and well enough to hit, but Judge has proven he can do it on his own if necessary. He’s putting together one of the greatest individual seasons of all time, and sometimes he’s doing it with no real protection. None of the other Yankees have a career year, and nearly all of them have been sick lately. It’s a lot of clubhouse chatter.
“When you have Batman, you normally have Robin,” said Josh Donaldson, who hit a solo homer in Saturday’s loss to the Yankees. “If you don’t, the next one will. [Anthony] Rizzo and Big G [Stanton] have been pretty good all year, but they’re not living their most special years.
When Donaldson won his MVP title with Toronto, he was part of a lineup in which Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion hit 40 and 39 home runs, respectively. Meanwhile, Judge has been naked at times in Yankees roster this season. The Yankees’ other productive stars have all been absent at one time or another, and recently they were almost all absent at the same time.
Rizzo was having a great season before back pain and then headaches knocked him out; the Yankees hope he can return on Sunday. Stanton is back to provide some protection. DJ LeMahieu is still working to come back. It’s like there’s an epidemic of foot injuries in the clubhouse.
Regardless, Judge just seems to be stepping up his game. Almost miraculously, the more time the other guys ran out, the more Judge took on the load and the better he seemed to do. Opposing managers have only thought to intentionally step on Judge 17 times, but it’s becoming more and more frequent.
Roger Maris, who lost clumps of hair while chasing Babe Ruth, had Mickey Mantle, an all-time great, beating behind him, which is why Maris received no intentional walks in his year record 61 homers in 1961. Maris also had the advantage of setting the record in an expansion year, when pitching thinned and offensive numbers soared.
All about Aaron Judge and his pursuit of the home run record:
This year, it’s the opposite. With 57 home runs through Friday, Judge had 46% more home runs than the Phillies’ second most productive hitter, Kyle Schwarber, who had 39 (Yordan Alvarez and Mike Trout were next in the AL with 36 each) . It’s not just teammates who fail to keep shouting distance. Judge’s OPS of 1.102 was by far the best in baseball.
“How dominant he’s been this year, with all the talk of the dead ball, I don’t remember that happening,” Donaldson said.
The judge isn’t looking, and he doesn’t seem to care much. When it was pointed out to him that he had a shot at winning the batting title, and therefore the Triple Crown, he mentioned that he had some way to go to win the batting crown. Former Donaldson Twins teammate Luis Arraez led at .319 heading into Saturday, eight points ahead of Judge.
“No need to think about it,” said the judge. “I have a job to do.”
In his mind, it’s to help the Yankees win games, and that’s it, nothing more and nothing less.