After teasing baseball in his last-at bat with a near-miss fly ball to one of Yankee Stadium’s deepest reaches Thursday night, Aaron Judge resumes his pursuit of Roger Maris tonight. It’s a chase he wouldn’t be in without the help of the KC Royals.
Judge has 60 home runs, just one shy of Maris’ American League record 61, and can tie, and maybe break, that mark when the Yanks play Boston this evening. But whether he accomplishes either feat tonight, he’s certain to own the record before the Yankees complete the 13 regular season games they have left.
And when he has that mark all to himself, he needs to thank the Royals for helping him achieve it.
Aaron Judge wouldn’t be on the cusp of a record without the KC Royals.
Judge, the star outfielder playing his seventh season in The Bronx, hit his Babe Ruth-tying 60th homer against Pittsburgh Tuesday night and came within a few feet of tying Maris’ 61-year old AL record in the bottom of the ninth Thursday. (New York clinched a postseason spot on Josh Donaldson’s walk-off single against the Red Sox in the 10th).
Had the Yanks been playing Kansas City, the record might already be his.
That’s because Judge punished the Royals again this season. He boosted his career .312/.405/.679 line and 1.084 OPS against them by slashing .391/.500/.1.304 with a 1.804 OPS this year. More specifically relevant to his pursuit of Maris, though, is that he clubbed seven home runs off Royals pitchers, a total that surpassed the five homers he’d hit against KC in six previous campaigns.
Only the Orioles have surrendered more 2022 home runs (nine) to Judge. And that’s happened over 15 games—the Yankee slugger hit his seven against Kansas City in just six. (He gets three more shots at Baltimore before the season ends, but won’t see the Royals again until 2023).
Judge’s 2022 assault on Kansas City pitching includes a pair of two-homer performances. The first came May 1 when he hit two solo blasts, one against Daniel Lynch in the first inning and the second off Josh Staumont in the ninth, that highlighted New York’s 6-4 victory at Kauffman Stadium.
He also homered twice in New York’s 11-5 Yankeed Stadium victory July 29; the first, a two-run shot, came against Kris Bubic in the third and he tagged Jackson Kowar for a grand slam in the eighth.
Judge’s other three home runs against KC included the July 28 walk-off blast he hit off Scott Barlow at Yankee Stadium, a solo shot off Dylan Coleman April 29 in Kansas City (the Royals lost 12-2), and the two-run homer he victimized Jonathan Heasley with that proved to be the difference in an 8-2 Yankee home win July 30.
Without those seven round-trippers against the Royals, Judge’s chances against Maris’ record would be, this late in the season, slim if not none.
So it is that Judge should tip his cap toward Kansas City when he hits the record breaker.
Aaron Judge has the Royals to thank, in part, for the record he’s about to set.