On the verge of home-run history, Aaron Judge can take aim at Roger Maris’ American League record of 61 while swinging for the fences in front of the home fans over the next six days.
Sitting on 59 home runs, Judge returns home Tuesday night when the Yankees play host to the Pittsburgh Pirates in the opener of a two-game interleague series.
“They’re going to be like over the edge, slapping at things, and beer is going to be flying everywhere,” New York pitcher Gerrit Cole said. “It’s probably not going to be a child-friendly environment in the bleachers. It’s going to be nuts.”
The Yankees have 16 games remaining for Judge to join Babe Ruth and Maris as the only AL players to reach 60 homers. Ruth hit 60 in 1927 when the Yankees won 110 games and beat the Pirates in the World Series. Maris broke the mark by hitting his 61st home run in the final game of the 1961 season against Boston.
Judge hit four more homers on New York’s five-game trip through Boston and Milwaukee. He recorded multi-homer games Tuesday and again on Sunday when the Yankees dodged a sweep with a 12-8 victory over the Brewers.
Besides the home run chase, Judge has a legitimate shot at winning the AL Triple Crown, something last achieved by Detroit’s Miguel Cabrera in 2012.
Judge went 4-for-5 on Sunday to increase his on-base streak to 18 games. He is batting .485 (31-for-64) with 10 home runs and 18 RBIs during the stretch to raise his batting average from .293 to .316. That moved him one point behind Minnesota’s Luis Arraez, the AL leader, entering play Monday.
Despite the individual success, Judge remains focused on racking up more team success. The Yankees (88-58) return home with nine wins in their past 13 games and a 5 1/2-game lead over the Toronto Blue Jays in the AL East.
“We have some big games coming up,” Judge said. “That’s really the only thing on my mind right now. My focus is to go out there and win a game.”
Pittsburgh (55-92) heads to the Bronx after getting outscored 23-8 in a four-game road sweep by the New York Mets. Rookie Oneil Cruz hit a three-run homer in Sunday’s 7-3 loss and has six of his 17 homers this month.
Along with attempting to contain Judge, Pittsburgh is hoping to limit its strikeouts and errors after a rough weekend against the National League East leaders. The Pirates struck out 20 times Sunday to tie a major league record for a nine-inning game and struck out 55 times while also committing six errors against the Mets.
“In some of these games, we’ve just seen really good pitching, and that comes into play,” Pirates manager Derek Shelton said. “But I do think, as guys get more mature, they get more at-bats, you have the ability to execute a better plan.”
Yankees left-hander Nestor Cortes (10-4, 2.70 ERA) will make his third start since returning from a short injured-list stint. Cortes has thrown 58 and 65 pitches respectively in his last two starts and earned the win Wednesday at Boston when he allowed one run and had seven strikeouts in five innings.
Pittsburgh did not announce a starter, but it could be rookie Luis Ortiz (0-0, 0.00) who struck out five and pitched 5 2/3 innings of one-hit ball in his major league debut last Tuesday against Cincinnati.
Ortiz is ranked second among all Pirates minor-leaguers in strikeouts (138 in 124 1/3 innings) and his fastball averaged 99 mph in his debut.
–Field Level Media