ANAHEIM — Aaron Judge got first-hand experience with Shohei Ohtani at Angel Stadium this week, sparking conversations among teammates who marveled at the Angels’ superstar’s pitch mechanics. It wouldn’t be surprising if the American League record for home runs in a single season is challenged this season.
Judge had owned the mark since Oct. 4, when he hit his 62nd home run to break the 61-year mark set by the Yankees’ Roger Morris. Ohtani has a place at the top of the list, according to Judge.
“Records are about to be broken,” Judge said Wednesday. “This is just a record. If he goes there and scores 63 or more, the game will be exciting. Let’s see what happens”.
Ohtani closed with 35 homers on Wednesday, the most recent of which was hit by the Yankees’ Michael King on Monday. Ohtani is hitting .429 (12-for-28) with four home runs and eight RBIs over his past seven outings, and has been red hot of late.
“Unbelievable. Fun to watch,” the judge agreed. “When he plays against us, I don’t like to see what he’s doing in person, but it’s fun to turn on the TV and see him pitch eight innings, strike out 10 and hit two home runs in one game.
“I’m excited about what he’s done so far and I’m looking forward to seeing what else he does when we get out of here.”
It should be noted that Judge was on a similar speed to 2022 when he crashed into the right field wall at Dodger Stadium on June 3. Judge ran the bases for the first time since that injury on Wednesday, taking batting practice in the field and doing some light defensive work.
Although Judge’s numbers are frozen at 19 homers in 49 games — notably, he still leads his team in homers and RBI (40) — he’d like another chance to hit 62 or better in future seasons.
“I’ve got a few years left in this game,” Judge said. “If he breaks it, it gives me another chance to go out and try to do something special. But right now I’m not too focused on that. I always wish him well and I’m always excited to see what he can achieve, but now I’m not too concerned about the achievement.
Ohtani seems to have handled the growing attention with ease and could benefit from following Judge’s lead. Last season, Judge’s main focus was helping the Yankees win games, whether it was batting or pitching. The pressure of the homer record chase didn’t hit him until he hit 50.
“The hardest thing for me was when I was 62,” Judge said. “I’ve never started a game so quiet and everyone standing. It was shocking to me because I came to play a baseball game and not worry about a record. I just wanted to go out there and help my team win.”
“I started a game against Pittsburgh and Boston with a double and it almost seemed like the fans were upset. I understand they want to see history, so I think it’s a tough thing for me to try to focus on. We’ve got one more game to play.”
One aspect of Ohtani’s game that Judge likes to take credit for is not his shooting ability.
“I love how he works his lower body,” Judge admitted. “Like him I tried to tap a bit with my foot. The other day I was talking [Anthony] I came back during the game and said, ‘I want my kick to be like his.’ I haven’t passed yet. I have two more years left.
“He’s doing a good job; He gets after the ball and has authority on all sides of the field. When he comes to the disc, right now, you don’t want to catch him.”