NEW YORK — The next spot due to bat in the Yankees’ lineup belonged to Aaron Judge, a compelling reason to brave the deluge that pounded Yankee Stadium when play halted on Sunday evening. Most of the crowd remained, time frozen at the end of the sixth inning, hoping Mother Nature would grant a window for one more crack at history.
Alas, the lightning strike and accompanying thundercrack that rocked 161st Street’s largest structure suggested that it might be best for this show to go on the road. Judge’s pursuit of Roger Maris’ single-season American League home run record will thus continue north of the border, his Yankees having completed a perfect homestand with a rain-shortened, 2-0 victory over the Red Sox.
“It’s a lot of fun,” Judge said. “I’m playing with the Yankees, in first place, getting a chance to clinch the division here in a couple of days. There’s no better feeling. I’m just trying to soak in every single day with these guys, every single moment. This is the stuff you dream about as a kid.”
While the eyes of the sports world focused upon each of Judge’s 15 at-bats that followed his 60th homer on Tuesday against the Pirates, the Yankees swept the Bucs and Sox, shaving their magic number to clinch the American League East to two.
They’ll thus have the opportunity to spray bubbly after any victory during their three-game series against the Blue Jays at Rogers Centre, which begins on Monday. There was no disappointment, manager Aaron Boone said, in the fact that Judge was unable to equal or eclipse Maris’ record at home.
“We just went 6-0 on the homestand, and he was right in the middle of all that,” Boone said. “The script will play out. It’s the drama of sport. Things happen if and when they’re supposed to. You’re competing at the highest level; you can’t just push buttons to have things happen.”
Taking his swings once again in front of both a national television audience and a hushed, standing crowd in the Bronx, Judge ripped a double to open the first inning against Boston rookie Brayan Bello, then worked a six-pitch walk in the third inning, battling back from an 0-2 count.
Judge seemed to get an inviting pitch to hit in his third at-bat, whipping his bat at a hanging Bello slider. The crowd roared at the sight of an airborne baseball, but Judge immediately winced, having produced only a routine flyout to left-center field.
Play halted after Oswald Peraza struck out looking to end the home half of the sixth inning; a one-hour, 38-minute delay saw Boone and Red Sox manager Alex Cora exchange handshakes and hugs behind home plate, a clear indication that the green, yellow and red blobs on the radar would not abate anytime soon.
“I’d like to hit; I think anybody would want more at-bats,” Judge said. “But you can ask anybody in that room, we’re excited we came away with a narrow victory, and one win closer to clinching the division.”
Yankees starter Nestor Cortes was excellent in what went into the books as a complete game, one-hit shutout. Cortes’ support came in the fourth inning, as rookie Oswaldo Cabrera doubled, stole third and scored on Jose Trevino’s single to left.
With rain falling in the sixth, Marwin Gonzalez lifted a soar ball that was flubbed by right fielder Rob Refsnyder, allowing Aaron Hicks to score from first base.
Though Judge has been kept in the ballpark for five straight games (just the fourth time that has happened at home this season), he has extended his season-high on-base streak to 24 games, the third-longest such string of his career and the longest by a Yankee this year.
Perhaps not surprisingly, given how Judge has handled the demands of playing in New York City, the home run chase has not seemed to wear upon him.
“You can’t even notice that he’s about to hit his 61st homer,” Cortes said. “Inside the clubhouse, behind the scenes, he’s the same guy. I think that’s what makes him so special. No matter if he’s on a tear or if he’s struggling, he’s the same guy, always.”
Judge’s family and the visiting Maris clan have displayed much more emotion during this homestand than the slugger, whose lone sliver of frustration flashed after a checked-swing third strike called on him late on Saturday. By all accounts, Judge’s focus remains on contributing to victories.
Everyone else seems to be along for the ride — now, they’ll need to present a passport for a chance to witness history. Asked if his parents, Wayne and Patty, would come north in hopes of seeing No. 61, Judge grinned.
“They’re retired,” Judge said. “They have nothing to do, so they’d better be there.”
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