Shohei Ohtani’s 35th home run of the season on Monday reminded the New York Yankees that he is a baseball titan, much like reigning American League MVP Aaron Judge.
With Judge on the injured list because of a sprained toe, there wasn’t a duel of spectacular, towering home runs like in previous encounters between the Yankees and Angels. But Ohtani’s home run was more than just an impressive feat.
Ohtani has shown he is capable of matching, maybe even surpassing, Judge’s American League record of 62 homers in a season.
“Records are made to be broken,” Judge said before the Angels defeated the Yankees on Wednesday. “It will be exciting for the game when he goes out and scores 63-plus. So we’ll see what happens.
“I still have a few years left for this game. If he does it will give me another opportunity to go out there and try to do something special, but that’s not really my focus right now.”
With 65 games remaining, Ohtani is on track to hit 58 homers. For Judge, he said he didn’t feel the weight of his record run until he was about to equal Roger Maris’ 61.
“Everyone in the stadium got up but they stopped cheering and it didn’t feel like a normal ball game to me,” Judge mused. “That changed things for me, but throughout the process I thought about winning ball games.”
Much the same for Ohtani, with his last three home runs coming in close games. He hit a home run in the ninth inning on Saturday, setting off a rally that forced extra innings in a wild win over the Houston Astros. He hit another home run in a one-run loss to the Astros on Sunday and made a game-winning win on Monday with an extra inning.
“Everything he does is designed to be the best player in the world to win,” said Angels manager Phil Nevin. “Everything else that comes with it is great, but he wants to win.”
Judge said the stadium environment proved to be one of the most difficult aspects of his record-breaking run last year. The reaction of the fans during his attacks made it difficult for him to focus on helping the team win.
“I took the lead in a game against Pittsburgh and Boston with a brace,” Judge recalled. “You almost get the feeling that the fans are upset and understand that they want to see history.
“When the time comes, everything is mental. Even Shohei can hit 100 homers, 80 homers. He’s got that kind of talent…but in moments like that it’s just about being mentally able to block out the noise or lack of noise in those moments.”