For a while there, it looked as if history would write itself. The clock struck 2:43 on Oct. 1, 2022 with Aaron Judge staring at Orioles starting pitcher Austin Voth’s full-count pitch, and all and sundry believed the fourth-inning staredown would lead to the inevitable. The stars were simply too aligned for Fate not to cooperate. Instead, the Yankees stalwart whiffed badly on a curveball clocked at 76.8 miles per hour and a wicked 2,997 revolutions per minute. He was, needless to say, disgusted at having missed the opportunity to break legend Roger Maris’ American League record of 61 home runs set right to the minute 61 years ago.
To be sure, Judge wasn’t exactly being given chances by the Orioles. And since they understandably didn’t want to be on the wrong end of narratives, they pitched to him with extreme caution. Voth grazed his arm as he led off in bottom of the first inning, and then walked him following just five pitches in the second. That said, the mano-a-mano in the fourth would likely not have gone his way even if he got his bat to make contact; the high topspin all but ensured that the ball would hit the ground thereafter. The choice of pitch was made to avoid a hit for extra bases, and most especially one that would go yard.
For Judge, the good news is that the Yankees still have five games before their season ends. That’s five games’ worth of at-bats for him to topple Maris’ mark. The bad news is that he will be facing the same risk-averse pitches the Orioles served up throughout. It bears noting that he’s likewise in the running for the triple crown; he’s currently the pacesetter in runs batted in and walks, and second in batting average. Claiming the elusive feat, the first in a decade, may well put him decisively ahead of the Angels’ two-way sensation Shohei Ohtani in the race for Most Valuable Player honors.
Remarkably, Judge has stayed even-keeled given his so-near-yet-so-far situation. He doesn’t get too high or too low regardless of the outcome of his at-bats, and makes sure to view his accomplishments alongside those of the Yankees. And so what if he’s in a contract year? He’s focused on the here and now — which is why he’s close to achieving immortality, and why he won’t be too bummed if he doesn’t meet the objective. He is who he is, and he knows what he has already become: a star for the ages.
Anthony L. Cuaycong has been writing Courtside since BusinessWorld introduced a Sports section in 1994. He is a consultant on strategic planning, operations and Human Resources management, corporate communications, and business development.