I’ve never experienced anything like the atmosphere at Yankee Stadium the last three nights. The Yankees won all three games, the first on a walk-off grand slam and the third via a walk-off RBI single in the 10th inning to clinch a playoff berth. Yet, all of that felt secondary to what didn’t happen—Aaron Judge did not hit his 61st home run to tie Roger Maris for the most homers by an American League player in a single season.
That doesn’t mean we all left disappointed. Far from it, actually. Tom Petty sang that the waiting is the hardest part; in this case, the waiting was thrilling. There was an unmistakable electricity surging through the corridors of the stadium that continued out with us as we boarded the 4 train ever so slowly and rode home from the Bronx through Manhattan. The buzz didn’t dissipate until I transferred to the A train at Fulton Street and returned home to Brooklyn.
This sensation cannot be compared to that of attending a playoff game, the easiest of analogies for us sports scribes to make whenever the stands are packed and more than 40,000 fans rise to their feet to clap, chant and cheer. The fans weren’t rooting for the Yankees (or the Pirates or Red Sox) this week so much as they were rooting for one player to make history so that they could witness and feel like they were a part of it.
That distinction was less palpable Tuesday night, when Judge entered the game with 59 home runs and went his first three plate appearances without one. He led off the bottom of the ninth, with the Yankees down four, by hitting a solo blast. The place erupted, and he took only his second curtain call in the 356 career home games to that point—in a game the Yankees were losing by multiple runs. They came back to win after Anthony Rizzo doubled, Gleyber Torres walked, Josh Donaldson singled and Giancarlo Stanton smoked what Judge aptly called “a signature Giancarlo Stanton 10-foot [high] laser.” An ultimate slam that completed a five-run ninth inning, and all anybody wanted to talk about postgame was Aaron Judge, except Judge himself. That was the moment when everything flipped.
I sat in the stands the next night with Connor Grossman, Sports Illustrated’s former baseball editor whom you may remember from the newsletter I wrote after we went to Jameson Taillon’s near perfect game in early June. We all stood as Judge stepped in the box to lead off the bottom of the first. He promptly ripped a double down the left field line, and everyone groaned. He hit a double, and there was a collective, audible groan! The same thing happened later in the game when he hit another double into the left field corner. When Pirates reliever Eric Stout walked him on four pitches in the eighth inning of a blowout game—an inning in which the Yankees scored eight runs and Torres smacked two home runs—everyone booed. Once they felt they had booed Stout enough, almost all of them began to leave. A fan turned to me and said, “F---ing bulls---,” as he left with his mom.
Last night’s game was the most comical of the bunch. In the pressbox, Stephanie Apstein noted the silence that fell every time Judge readied to hit after he walked up to furious applause. We couldn’t remember such a silence happening in a ballpark before the pitch was thrown, especially not before every pitch to a batter. The score was tied, 4–4, in the ninth with one out when Judge, who had walked three times already (with the fans booing the pitcher after each of them), barreled a high heater 113 mph to center field. Everyone, including the Fox cameraman, thought it was long gone. It went 404 feet and landed in Kiké Hernández’s glove, less than four feet from the wall. It would have been a home run in 13 other parks, per the excellent Twitter account Would it dong?
The next inning, Donaldson hit an RBI single, and the Yankees clinched a postseason berth. The rest of us are still waiting for something to celebrate.
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1. THE OPENER
“This is Julio Rodríguez, human helium; electric, soulful rookie; and would-be franchise savior. He’s so young that teammates referred to him as Simba in spring training. He’s so talented that All-Stars wax poetic about his tools—all five, all sharpened—plus a ceiling that’s higher than the Space Needle.
“His life also spans the Mariners’ postseason drought, revealing a potentially transformative juxtaposition. His 21 years is infancy for a professional baseball star. Seattle’s 20 years of postseason absences is nearly half of its 46 seasons. Counting this one, drought and star are the same age.”
That’s Greg Bishop, writing in today’s Daily Cover story, on Mariners phenom Julio Rodríguez, who is destined to be the face of baseball and promises to turn Seattle’s next two decades into the antithesis of the last two.
Julio Rodríguez Is Here to Save the Mariners by Greg Bishop
The man of magical moments isn’t the next Ken Griffey Jr. He wants to write his own story—beginning with ending Seattle’s playoff drought.
Let’s run through some of our other great SI baseball stories from this week.
The Minor Leaguers Who Sprung a Union on MLB by Emma Baccellieri
Players were already fuming over their treatment. Enter a motley crew of career minor leaguers with a plan.
Spooky season is almost here, especially for three former All-Stars. Can they figure things out before their careers take a scary turn?
The Yankees Are Built for a Deep Playoff Run by Tom Verducci
Too many strikeouts? Too reliant on home runs? No matter. This is Aaron Boone’s best team to win in the postseason.
The Braves and the Mets are still neck and neck, but the gap in the AL Central widens as just 15 teams in MLB are left fighting for 12 October playoff spots.
3. WORTH NOTING from Stephanie Apstein
Aaron Judge did not hit his 61st home run of the season last night, but he still authored one of the signature moments of the game when Red Sox leadoff batter Tommy Pham launched a ball that slammed into the outfield wall in the top of the ninth. Judge snared the carom, then from the warning track fired a 92.3-mph strike to shortstop Isiah Kiner-Falefa to get the out at second base. New York would win 5–4; the play kept the game tied at 4.
“We obviously talk about the 60 [home runs], the triple crown and all of that, but then the next level that makes him so special is how complete of a player he is,” manager Aaron Boone said afterward. “That was a little peek at that.”
4. W2W4 from Nick Selbe
Milestone Watch carries over into the weekend. Aaron Judge’s pursuit of history will continue against the Red Sox in front of what is sure to be a raucous Yankee Stadium crowd. Meanwhile, Albert Pujols is still in search of home runs Nos. 699 and 700, and will return to Los Angeles to try to find some magic at Dodger Stadium. Pujols has been an absolute menace against left-handed pitchers this season, owning a 1.154 OPS versus southpaws on the year. As fate would have it, the Dodgers are trotting out three lefty starters for this weekend series, though they’re three good ones: Andrew Heaney, Clayton Kershaw and Tyler Anderson. Nevertheless, we should see plenty of Pujols at bats these next few days.
Aside from historic home run chases, there isn’t a ton much else to hold our intrigue over the course of the stretch run. Things can change fast, but the chases for the remaining playoff spots have lacked a certain pizzazz to this point. The Orioles are four games back of the Mariners for the American League’s final wild-card spot, and desperately need to win a home series against the Astros this weekend to retain any hope of a miracle push. The Brewers are closer to making a push in the NL, trailing the Phillies by 2.5 games. They’ll face the Reds on the road, while the Phillies play host to Atlanta this weekend, so perhaps that race will tighten up in three days’ time.
5. THE CLOSER from Emma Baccellieri
As many of us have this week, I’ve been thinking quite a bit about Roger Maris. His family has been in attendance at Yankee Stadium the last few nights; the television cameras search for them with every plate appearance by Aaron Judge. (Maris died of cancer at the age of 51 in 1985.) I thought I knew the stress and struggle he faced as he chased Babe Ruth’s record in ’61. But I’d never read SI’s definitive piece on the subject by Roger Kahn—who shadowed Maris for the final month of the season and captured all of that pressure up close. If you haven’t read it, either, I can’t recommend it more. It’s fascinating and troubling on its own. But it also makes for a striking comparison with what we’re seeing this week—an environment where it feels all of baseball is watching together, excited for the history we’re about to witness and supportive of it, too. What a difference.
That’s all from us today. We’ll be back in your inbox next Friday. In the meantime, share this newsletter with your friends and family, and tell them to sign up at SI.com/newsletters. If you have any questions or comments, shoot us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.