After a remarkable regular season that saw Aaron Judge produce one of the most outstanding individual performances baseball has ever seen, the Yankees’ statistics now reset for the most important games of the year -- their drive for the 28th World Series championship in franchise history.
The American League Division Series will open on Oct. 11 at Yankee Stadium, where the Yankees will host either the Cleveland Guardians or the Tampa Bay Rays. No matter their opponent, manager Aaron Boone believes this club is capable of being the last team standing, the goal they set back on the first day of Spring Training.
“There’s still other chapters to write,” Boone said. “That’s the hope, and now you have that opportunity. We’re going to chase that. For us overall, we’re proud to be in this position. We’re proud to win the American League East. This is a bear of a division every year, as much this year because every team is now competitive.
“To go through the highs of the first half where we raced out and nothing really went wrong for the first few months, to really hitting a roadblock for a six-week stretch where we were beat up and injured, we’ve persevered through that. We finished the season like we needed to. Now we give ourselves a shot to chase our dream of winning the championship.”
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Aaron Judge needed some time to absorb the magnitude of his record-setting 62nd home run late on Tuesday evening, having received a standing ovation from the sellout crowd at Globe Life Field as he jogged from his position in right field. In a quiet corner of the visiting clubhouse, the Yankees star collected his thoughts.
Judge had passed Roger Maris, crushing a first-inning blast into the left-field seats, securing his place as the American League’s single-season all-time home run king. As Judge gazed into an ocean of cameras and microphones, the probable AL Most Valuable Player was asked what he would remember most from this frenzied home run chase.
“The fans,” Judge replied. “The fans at home, the fans on the road. The constant support; seeing Yankee Stadium on their feet for every single at-bat. They were booing pitchers for throwing balls, which I’ve never seen before. I think I got a base hit the other night, and I was getting booed for a single. It’s just little moments like that you look back on.”
There had been opportunities for Judge to surpass Maris in the Bronx; after slugging his 60th homer on Sept. 20 against the Pirates, Judge went homerless until Sept. 28 against the Blue Jays in Toronto, when he equaled Maris with No. 61. Judge was kept in the ballpark by the Orioles over a three-game series from Oct. 1-3, cementing the fact that if he were to pass Maris, it would have to take place in Texas.
“It would have been great to do it in Yankee Stadium in front of our home fans,” Judge said. “But I know a lot of Yankees fans; they travel well. There were a lot of Yankees fans here [Tuesday], and I got a chance to share that experience with the fans.”
After looking at a ball and a strike, Judge unloaded on an 88.4 mph offering from Rangers right-hander Jesus Tinoco, slugging a Statcast-projected 391-foot drive toward the left-field seats. The ball, marked with ‘C 13’ for authentication purposes, was secured by Cory Youmans, a fan seated in Section 31, Row 1, Seat 3.
“I had a good feeling off the bat,” Judge said. “I just didn’t know where it was going to land or what it was going to hit. There was a good sense of relief once I saw it in that fan’s glove.”
As Judge trotted around the bases, the Yankees spilled out of their dugout, many hurdling over a low fence in front of the seating area. Judge grinned broadly as he made the hard left turn at third base, pointing to the sky and stamping his left foot on home plate before embracing each teammate in sight.
“It was pretty surreal,” Judge said. “At home, if I look up, I look right into our dugout, so I could see all the guys sitting there at the top step of the dugout waiting for this to happen. On the road, they were behind me, so I didn’t see the 40-plus people sitting in the dugout.
“Finally seeing them on the field and getting a chance to hug them all or have them say congratulations, that’s what it’s about for me. Those guys are grinding with me every single day, and they’ve been along this journey through the ups and downs. Getting a chance to share that moment on the field was pretty special, that’s for sure.”
THUNDERBOLTS AND ‘LIGHTNING’
Judge was not the only Yankees star shattering a beloved single-season record this week.
Gerrit Cole made history on Tuesday evening when the right-hander surpassed Ron Guidry’s franchise mark of 248 strikeouts, which had stood since Louisiana Lightning’s Cy Young Award-winning 1978 campaign.
Guidry made a surprise telephone call to the Yankees' clubhouse to congratulate Cole, who struck out nine Rangers, ending his regular season with a Major League-leading 257 strikeouts.
“I’ve been waiting ever since you put the Yankees uniform on for this moment, because I knew you were going to do it at some point in time,” Guidry told Cole, words broadcast to the entire team over Bluetooth speakers. “You’ve earned it.”
As he eyes a potential Game 1 assignment in the American League Division Series against either the Guardians or the Rays, Cole concluded the regular season with a 13-8 record and a 3.50 ERA.
In 200 2/3 innings, Cole permitted 154 hits (including a career-high 33 homers), while issuing only 50 walks and holding opponents to a .209 average.
“When you think about the Yankees, oftentimes we’re reminded of the legends that live in Monument Park and the accomplishments they’ve had,” Cole said. “Even just to tie the record, let alone break it, it’s a bit surreal. Obviously, on a night like tonight, it’s like, ‘Whoa.’ That’s a lot of history going on.”
Each week, we invite newsletter readers to share a treasured Yankees-related story or anecdote. This week, we travel back in time to 1961 with Stu Nicholson:
My first ever visit to the original Yankee Stadium remains my best memory. I had just turned 11 and my Dad took me to my first live game in August of that year. I had only seen Yankee games on my folks’ black & white TV, so that first walk inside the stadium left me speechless. All I could utter was, "Wow!" over and over.
The colors, the smells of popcorn, beer and (yes, back then) cigarettes… the steel girders in front of "selected" seats … thankfully, ours didn't include one. Even the ride on the subways and elevated trains to and from the game made that day special.
Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris were in the midst of the home run race to beat Babe Ruth's record, and they both hit home runs that day. But I identified even more with the everyday players: the ones who would come up day to day with the great catches, the timely hits that kept rallies going. They were the regular working guys, like my Dad. It was the best gift my Dad ever gave me.
The Yankees are the first team in Major League history to have a batter with 60 or more home runs (Judge) and a pitcher with 250 or more strikeouts (Cole) in the same season, according to STATS Inc.
Gerrit Cole is the sixth Yankee to lead the American League in strikeouts. Who was the most recent before this year?
A.) Whitey Ford
B.) Ron Guidry
C.) Roger Clemens
D.) Al Downing
On this date in 1926, Babe Ruth went 3-for-3 with three home runs, four runs, four RBIs and two walks during the Yankees’ 10-5 win over the Cardinals in Game 4 of the World Series.
Ruth remains one of only four players in Major League history to hit three home runs in a World Series game; Ruth did it twice, also achieving the feat on Oct. 9, 1928. The others are: Reggie Jackson (Oct. 18, 1977), Albert Pujols (Oct. 22, 2011) and Pablo Sandoval (Oct. 24, 2012).
D.) Al Downing
Downing paced the AL with 217 strikeouts in 1964. Though Guidry established a franchise record with 248 strikeouts in 1978, he placed second in the AL, behind the Angels’ Nolan Ryan (260).
The other Yankees to lead the league in strikeouts were: Allie Reynolds (160 in 1952), Vic Raschi (164 in 1951), Lefty Gómez (163 in 1933, 158 in 1934 and 194 in 1937), and Red Ruffing (190 in 1932).
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