Almost as if the bright lights were foreshadowing history, the giant scoreboard asked for noise. And more noise.
And, then, just like that, in a moment of baseball magic never to be forgotten, Aaron Judge delivered.
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Judge hit his 61st home run of the season on Wednesday night at Rogers Centre to tie Roger Maris’ American League record from 1961. He did what no one in modern history has ever done before without a syringe. And there still are seven games left for him to hit one more — to become the unofficial home run champion of baseball.
And Toronto reacted as it should, loud and frenzied, just as the scoreboard requested.
It made noise. It stood and cheered a New York Yankees’ star. The hated New York Yankees. The fans wouldn’t stop and they wouldn’t sit down. Just like it was one of ours. Just like he was a Blue Jay. But that’s what should happen in the biggest moments, the best moments, the ones that change baseball from every other day over the course of six months: It all gets reduced to one pitch and one at-bat — and one line drive more certain and hit farther than the one Joe Carter smashed to win the 1993 World Series.
This will always be the biggest regular-season home run in this city. Roberto Alomar hit his playoff homer in Oakland. Ed Sprague hit his pinch-hit shot in Atlanta. Edwin Encarnacion and Jose Bautista, he of the bat flip, hit theirs in this park in recent times. But no one has hit a 61st here because no one since Maris ever hit that many.
And now an appreciative Rogers Centre crowd took it all in, fans able to tell their friends for the rest of their lives that they were there when Judge hit his 61st home run off Tim Mayza.
A no-doubter of a home run. A screaming line drive. There was no waiting to know if it was going out. If you’re here often enough, you knew almost immediately. Judge must have known immediately.
I was there when Kawhi Leonard hit that still ridiculous jump shot from the corner and changed the Raptors forever. I was there when Doug Gilmour did the wrap-around goal, one of the great playoff moments in modern Leafs history. I was there for the Carter home run and the homers by Bautista and Encarnacion. Those were spectacular Toronto sporting moments.
This one was spectacular but different. Your heart was beating fast as you watched. It wasn’t better than those seen here before, just different. A player who isn’t yours isn’t ours making history. And a player who isn’t yours was being cheered just like he was one of us.
These are moments you carry with you all your life if you’re a sports fan. A chance to say you were there. A chance for the million or so people watching across Canada to be able to own that for the rest of their lives. The Maris family was there, as they have been throughout the entire chase, and they were hugging and applauding and maybe shedding a tear or two. The hug from Roger Maris Jr. to Judge’s mom in the stands was something unforgettable.
The Maris’ have been waiting for this. They want to see one more home run. Seven games to go. He has to get there, doesn’t he? He has to find his way to 62 and become the first non-juicer in history to reach that plateau.
Judge wasn’t a Yankee last night as much as he belonged to all of baseball. This was his home run and their home run and our home run, all at the very same time. His moment, their moment, our moment. When does that ever happen? Only on momentous occasions such as this. This is where sports is different than anything else in our lives.
One minute you can be booing the fact the Jays were walking Judge and then booing the umpire who called a ball that looks like a strike: There was that kind of internal confusion on this night. The Jays could have clinched a playoff spot. The champagne was ready, the Jays were not.
The crowd wanted a home run and didn’t want a home run. All at the same time. And then they stood and cheered and cheered some more as Judge went through a reception line of hugs and smiles and more hugs in front of the Yankees dugout. A never-ending ovation.
He grabbed every teammate, one after another, that wide smile never leaving his face, and he worked his way right through every player on the bench, and the coaches, and of course, his manager and largest supporter Aaron Boone.
The home run came in Judge’s fourth at-bat of the night, his first time facing Mayza. He had walked in the first inning and then popped to right field in the second inning. In his third and final at-bat against Mitch White, he grounded out to third base. The night didn’t seem to be going his way. Then he faced Mayza, the lefty, in the seventh inning with Aaron Hicks on first base after leading off the inning with a single.
And then it happened. Home run. Number 61. We saw it. You saw it. Our hearts are still racing. History before our very eyes.