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Judge Watch: Yankees slugger ties AL record with 61st home run of season

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New York Yankees centre fielder Aaron Judge (99) runs back to the dugout against the Toronto Blue Jays following first inning American League MLB baseball action in Toronto on Tuesday, September 27, 2022. With the American League East title in the bag, Yankees manager Aaron Boone has more flexibility to tinker with his lineup and get players rested ahead of the post-season.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

TORONTO — With the American League East title in the bag, Yankees manager Aaron Boone has more flexibility to tinker with his lineup and get players rested ahead of the post-season.

Some of his regulars got the night off Wednesday against Toronto. To the delight of fans hoping baseball history would be made at Rogers Centre, Yankees slugger Aaron Judge was not among them. 

Judge went deep in the seventh inning for his 61st home run of the season, tying the American League single-season record set by Roger Maris in 1961.

"Look, we all want him to get there," Boone said before the game. "We don't want to put any undue noise around it. There's plenty of that from the outside and all the eyeballs on it now."

Judge worked a full count against Blue Jays left-hander Tim Mayza before belting a 94-m.p.h. sinker into the Toronto bullpen. A Yankees security official collected the ball a few moments later. 

Judge walked and scored in the first inning. He flew out in the second and grounded out in the fourth inning. His homer gave New York a 5-3 lead.

Boone said he discussed a potential rest day with the slugger a night earlier after the Yankees clinched the East crown.

"What do you think about tomorrow? 'I want to play,'" Boone said of the conversation. "Let's go."

The designated hitter role gave the six-foot-seven star a break from his outfield duties. The 30-year-old Judge also has a good shot of winning the AL Triple Crown this year. 

After the Toronto series, the Yankees will have seven games remaining. 

New York has a day off Thursday before hosting the Baltimore Orioles in a three-game weekend series. New York closes out the regular season with a four-game set at Texas.  

Judge tied a career-high four walks in New York's 5-2 win over the Blue Jays on Tuesday night. He scored twice and extended his on-base streak to 26 games. 

"I feel like this series and the last series, I think teams have been going after him," Boone said. "He's just not chasing and is so disciplined right now. 

"You've got to be careful with him, even if you are attacking him."

Judge is second in the major leagues with 106 walks this season (18 intentional) behind San Diego's Juan Soto (133). Judge set a career high of 127 walks in 2017 in his first full season in the big leagues. 

When Barry Bonds set the major-league record of 73 homers in 2001, he also led the majors with 177 walks. Bonds had a whopping career high of 232 walks — including 120 intentional passes — in 2004.

Judge's remarkable campaign has been a regular topic in Toronto interim manager John Schneider's pre-game media availabilities this week as well. The Blue Jays skipper said he felt Judge's pitch selection has improved this year.

"I think because of the way people pitch him, a lot of mistakes happen in the middle of the plate and he is not missing them whatsoever," Schneider said. 

"Getting a pitch to hit and not missing it is hard to do and he's been doing that for seven months," Schneider added.

Judge lined out in his first plate appearance Tuesday and worked full counts in his next four plate appearances. His only other four-walk game came in a September 2017 game at Baltimore.

"As at-bats unfold, his discipline has been one of his calling cards this year and one of the reasons he's having such a great season," Boone said. 

Entering Wednesday's games, Judge led the major leagues in homers, runs scored (128), on-base percentage (. 425), slugging percentage (. 693), OPS (1.119) and extra-base hits (88).

Notes: The Yankees-Blue Jays series has been a ratings hit for Sportsnet. Monday's peak audience was 1.8 million late in the series opener, a network spokesperson said via email. Tuesday's peak hit 1.6 million near the game's midway point. 

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 28, 2022. 

Follow @GregoryStrongCP on Twitter.

Gregory Strong, The Canadian Press