MILWAUKEE — Everyone around Aaron Judge has been marveling at what he’s doing this season — everyone but Judge himself. He doesn’t pause to reflect. He just keeps going, putting up numbers that may wind up in the record book.
His teammates can hardly believe it. And why should they? No one has ever broken a home run record and won a Triple Crown in the same season, and both of those are there for Judge. A few more points on his batting average, with a few more homers sprinkled in and he’d be the first.
But while Judge’s exploits are the talk of the Yankees clubhouse — interrupted only briefly to debate whether the team hotel, The Pfister, is filled with ghosts (a few do wonder) — he professes to be paying no attention to the chase, or to history. And with Judge, you believe him.
You see him going the other way. You see him getting the big single when the Yankees need it. He’s not stressing over the numbers, only over wins and losses. His hair remains intact, too.
“I’m just playing the game I love. I’ve never played the game for the stats, or to see how I line up in certain categories” Judge told The Post after the Yankees lost to the Brewers in a thriller late Friday (and then followed that up with a 4-1 loss on Saturday night). “I play to win. Having that mindset motivates me.”
However he is doing it, it’s working. He has been asked to played center field, a clear team weakness, and he has done it magnificently. He has been asked to bat leadoff, and he has become the largest leadoff hitter in big league history, and also one of the best, and he has done it without counsel or question. He has been asked to play every day, of course. Manager Aaron Boone admits he just can’t give Judge a day off, not with the Yankees’ once impenetrable lead in the AL East slipping. Judge does that, too. The idea Judge is the one who’s injury prone is old news, and wrong.
A lineup without Judge, who didn’t homer but still went 1-for-3 with a double and a walk in Saturday’s loss, is unimaginable now.
It helps that Giancarlo Stanton is back and well enough to hit, but Judge has proven he can do it alone if he has to. He’s putting together one of the greatest individual seasons ever, and at times he has been doing it without real protection. None of the other Yankees is having a career year, and almost all of them have been ailing lately. That’s a big part of the clubhouse chatter.
“When you have Batman, you normally have Robin,” said Josh Donaldson, who hit a solo homer in the Yankees’ loss on Saturday. “If you don’t get it done, the next guy will get it done. [Anthony] Rizzo and Big G [Stanton] have been pretty good all year, but they aren’t having their most special years.”
When Donaldson won his MVP with Toronto, he was in a lineup in which Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion hit 40 and 39 homers, respectively. Meanwhile, Judge has been naked in the Yankees lineup at times this season. The other productive Yankees stars all have been out at one time or another, and recently they were almost all out at the same time.
Rizzo was having a fine season before a backache and then headaches knocked him out; the Yankees are hoping he can return Sunday. Stanton is back to provide some protection. DJ LeMahieu is still working to return. It’s as if there’s a foot-injury epidemic going around the clubhouse.
No matter, Judge just seems to step up his game. Almost miraculously, the more the other guys have missed time, the more Judge has shouldered the load, and the better he has seemed to do. Opposing managers have only thought to intentionally walk Judge 17 times, but it’s becoming a more frequent occurrence.
Roger Maris, who famously lost clumps of hair as he chased Babe Ruth, had Mickey Mantle, an all-time great, batting behind him, which is why Maris received no intentional walks in his record 61-homer year in 1961. Maris also had the advantage of setting the record in an expansion year, when the pitching thinned, and offensive numbers blew up.
Everything to know about Aaron Judge and his chase for the home run record:
This year it has been the opposite. With 57 home runs through Friday, Judge had 46 percent more home runs than the next-most productive slugger, the Phillies’ Kyle Schwarber, who had 39 (Yordan Alvarez and Mike Trout were next in the AL with 36 apiece). It’s not just teammates failing to stay within shouting distance. Judge’s 1.102 OPS was easily the best in baseball.
“How dominant he’s been this year, with all the talk about the dead ball, I can’t recall that happening,” Donaldson said.
Judge isn’t looking, and he’s seeming not to care much about it. When it was pointed out to him that he has a shot at the batting title, and thus the Triple Crown, he mentioned that he had a ways to go to win the batting crown. Donaldson’s old Twins teammate, Luis Arraez, was leading at .319 before Saturday, eight points higher than Judge.
“No need to think about that,” Judge said. “I’ve got a job to do.”
In his mind, that is to help the Yankees win games, and that’s it, nothing more and nothing less.