Aaron Judge’s chase for the AL home run record is a one-man race.
His pursuit of the AL Triple Crown is more complicated, thanks to a race for the batting title that includes one player who will share the field with Judge all weekend at Yankee Stadium.
Judge went 0-for-2 with three walks in Thursday’s 5-4, 10-inning win over Boston, but his pitching staff and defense helped make sure he preserved his lead for the batting title by holding Red Sox star shortstop Xander Bogaerts hitless in five at-bats. After Thursday’s action, with 13 games left for both teams, Judge was batting .31589 (169-for-535) while Bogaerts was batting .31358 (164-for-523). Twins utilityman Luis Arraez, who led the race for much of the season, was lurking behind at .31262 (161-for-515).
While all eyes — including those of commissioner Rob Manfred, who was in attendance Thursday — were on Judge going for home runs Nos. 61 and 62 to tie and break Roger Maris’ record, his batting title battle with Bogaerts figured to serve as an intriguing sideshow as the Yankees slugger hunted down a possible Triple Crown. It would be only the second in the last 55 years, joining Miguel Cabrera, who captured it in 2012.
“They’re both larger than life, face-of-the-franchise guys, so it’s only fitting, right?” said Red Sox outfielder Rob Refsnyder, who came up through the Yankees’ system with Judge and has been Bogaerts’ teammate all season. “And it’s only fitting that [Judge] is chasing it playing us. I think it’s great for baseball, great for the fans.”
Yankees pitchers had a more important goal this weekend of throwing well to help the club get closer to securing a division title. But retiring Bogaerts, the Red Sox’s No. 3 hitter, also figured to serve as an extra challenge to help their teammate’s historic season take on yet another layer of accomplishment.
Everything to know about Aaron Judge and his chase for the home run record:
“[Bogaerts] is a great hitter who we gotta try to figure out a way to keep at bay and neutralize,” manager Aaron Boone said before the game.
Having called Yankee Stadium home for parts of three seasons, Refsnyder figured the crowd this weekend might root against Bogaerts a little more than usual, knowing what was at stake for Judge. Bogaerts predicted as much earlier this week, when he told the Boston Globe, “They’d hate me even more [in New York]” if he were to deny Judge the Triple Crown.
But Refsnyder had some appreciation and perspective for the race, especially after playing with Arraez last year in Minnesota to give him insight into the top three contenders.
“[Judge] is just a hit machine,” Refsnyder said. “It’s crazy to watch. It’s pretty special. But Bogey’s been on quite a run, too. It’s crazy he’s kind of standing in the way and then there’s obviously Arraez, who can put up 10 hits in a series real fast. It’s going to be cool.”
Judge was hitting .274 with 31 home runs on July 15. But a dominant second half — he was hitting .388 with 29 home runs and a 1.405 OPS over his last 57 games entering Thursday — has vaulted him into the batting title conversation, which is the only leg of the Triple Crown that was still close. Judge’s 60 home runs led the AL by 23 (over the Astros’ Yordan Alvarez) and his 128 RBIs led the Guardians’ Jose Ramirez by 13.
As a baseball fan, Refsnyder hoped the batting title race would come down to the last day of the regular season. But as he stood in the visiting clubhouse at Yankee Stadium on Thursday, he knew how he had to handicap the race.
“I’d have to pull for Bogaerts just because he’s a crazy great teammate that kind of embodies what you want as a franchise [player],” Refsnyder said. “You hear things playing against someone and then you play with them and you’re like, ‘Wow. He lives up to the billing.’ Great teammate like Aaron. So obviously Bogey, but if Bogey doesn’t get it and Judge can do the home run thing and the Triple Crown, [is] that the top offensive season ever?”