A tense and unusual silence fell over Yankee Stadium at a moment that, under normal circumstances, would have produced a thunderous noise. The game was tied in the ninth inning when the Yankees faced the Boston Red Sox, their fiercest rival, and the slugger everyone had come to see was walking into the batter’s box.
With hitter Aaron Judge needing just one more home run to tie Roger Maris’ American League record of 61 in a single season, a crowd of more than 43,000 seemed to hold its breath.
As the judge looked over at Matt Barnes, a Red Sox reliever, the fans jumped to their feet and leaned forward as well, concentrating so hard on the moment it was as if they had forgotten to clap.
“I noticed it,” Alex Cora, the Red Sox manager, said of the lack of noise. “I mean, everyone noticed. He got very quiet on every pitch.”
Many of the fans held up their camera phones to record what they hoped would become a historic moment, perhaps leading to the eerie lack of applause, especially in the area behind home plate. But then Judge unwound his mighty swing into a high 96 mph fastball, sending the ball flying high into the air and deep into center field.
The silence briefly turned to a roar before falling silent again as Kiké Hernández, the Boston center fielder, settled under the ball. He caught him on the warning track just yards from Monument Park, where a plaque honors Maris along with every other Yankee great.
“I thought it would have been pretty flashy to leave it at Monument Park,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said of the long drive.
It didn’t, and Judge, who went 0-for-2 with a strikeout and three walks, frustratingly fell a home run short of Maris’s coveted mark. But one inning after Judge came up short, Josh Donaldson singled to left field, scoring Marwin Gonzalez and giving the Yankees a dramatic 5-4 win. It was their eighth win in ten games, and with it the team secured at least one wild card in this year’s postseason.
With Toronto’s loss to Tampa Bay on Thursday, the Yankees’ lead over the Blue Jays in the AL East increased to 7 1/2 games with 13 to play, but their postgame celebration was pretty quiet.
“We have the ultimate goal of winning our division and getting ready for the postseason,” Judge said, adding that he didn’t think he hit the Barnes ball well enough to get out. “But this is step number one of many steps to come, that’s for sure.”
Before the game, Cora had promised the Red Sox would defy the judge, saying they wouldn’t intentionally walk him or throw around him either. But fans certainly felt that was the case in the first inning, when Boston’s veteran starter Michael Wacha walked the judge on four pitches, drawing sustained boos from the crowd.
Judge entered the game 0-for-14 against Wacha, with 9 strikeouts, so Wacha had every reason to feel confident he could get Judge out, even if the Yankees slugger leads the AL in batting average, at . 316.
Wacha walked the umpire again in the third inning, leading to more boos, but both Cora and Wacha dismissed the idea that it had been intentional and blamed Wacha struggling with his mechanics, leading to control issues.
“Definitely not,” Wacha said of whether the walks were designed. “I don’t like opening walks, I don’t like hitting guys. That’s my modus operandi to pitch well is attack guys.”
The fans were skeptical and their frustration grew with every ball thrown out of the zone. Cora noted that Judge, an all-around talent at the plate, is an expert at firing bad pitches.
Cora’s statement of intent before that game, that they would throw to Judge, was finally confirmed in the fifth, when Wacha hit the slugger hard with runners on first and second and one out. Judge struck out on a swing in a 1-2 changeup. It was the 10th time in his 15 career at-bats that Wacha had sent Judge back to the bench like that.
In the seventh, John Schreiber, a Boston reliever, gave up a leadoff double to Kyle Higashioka, which meant Judge would come to the plate with first base wide open and the Red Sox up, 4-3. This was no time for bravado. The wisest thing to do was walk Judge, and Schreiber did it on five cautious pitches.
Barnes took over in the ninth and faced Judge with the bases empty and one out, saying later that he never considered throwing around him.
“With all due respect to Aaron Judge, he’s a great guy and he’s having an amazing season,” Barnes said, “I’m trying to get him out. Frankly, I don’t care about the story. We’ve got a ball game to win and if I allow a home run, The ball game is over.”
Judge, whose pursuit of Maris has captivated baseball, did not contribute any hits but made an excellent defensive play with the score tied in the ninth inning, demonstrating his overall ability on the ball field. Tommy Pham singled to right field and made the mistake of challenging Judge’s arm trying to stretch it out on a double. Judge cornered the ball and made a laser shot to second, which Cora noted was the kind of play a player hoping to win the MVP award makes.
The teams are scheduled to meet three more times at Yankee Stadium, and based on Thursday’s matchup, Judge may see a pitch or two to hit, but he may not. Boston is at the end of a poor season in which it will not make the playoffs, but Cora insisted the team is still trying to win. That means challenging Judge when the time is right and being careful when he isn’t.
“The game was on the line and we threw it,” Cora said almost defiantly. “This is not about being arrogant or, ‘This is what we do.’ But this is what we do, and he’s very good at firing pitches.”
Tyler Kepner other Jesus Jimenez contributed report.