The Red Sox insisted they were going to attack Aaron Judge.
They weren’t going to pitch around him unless the situation dictated it. If he made history because of it, so be it.
That, however, was not the case Thursday night in the Yankees’ 5-4, 10-inning victory in The Bronx. Michael Wacha and John Schreiber mostly stayed away from Judge, walking him three times in four plate appearances. He saw just six strikes. Each of the 13 balls he saw were greeted with loud boos from the large crowd of 43,123. He did come close to tying the Yankees’ single-season home run record in the ninth inning, but flied out to the wall in center field 404 feet away.
“We preach, ‘Attack the zone,’ ” manager Alex Cora said pregame. “Obviously the guy on the mound has a job to do. Intentional walks and pitching around people move the line. We’re trying to win games. … We’re going to go about it the way we always do.”
Judge entered play just a homer off Roger Maris’ Yankees’ single-season home run record, with 60 in what has been one of the greatest offensive seasons in recent memory and the American League leader in homers, RBIs and batting average.
On Wednesday night, Pirates reliever Eric Stout pitched around Judge in the eighth inning of a lopsided game and heard thunderous boos. Cora and Friday night starter Rich Hill both said the Red Sox would not act that way, but Wacha and Schreiber did follow the Stout game plan.
Judge didn’t see a single strike from Wacha in his first at-bat. In the third, he walked on a full-count offering and struck out in the fifth. It made sense for the Red Sox to put Judge on in the seventh after Kyle Higashioka’s leadoff double. But Schreiber pitched to him, only to walk Judge on five pitches.
Everything to know about Aaron Judge and his chase for the home run record:
In the ninth against Matt Barnes, Judge flied out to the warning track in dead center field.
Maybe Friday night will be different with Hill on the mound. The 42-year-old left-hander faced Barry Bonds in 2006 as a member of the Cubs. Bonds was on his way to moving into second place on the all-time home run list that season. Hill went after him, and nearly allowed home run No. 714. Juan Pierre made a homer-saving catch on a ball Bonds hit off Hill.
“You go out there and you make your pitches and you attack the hitter just as you would attack in the beginning of the season,” Hill said. “You want to face the best, you always want to go out there and compete against the best. That’s why we play this game. It doesn’t get any [better] than this at the major league level.”
As a player for the Dodgers from 1998-2004, Cora saw a lot of Bonds up close, including his record-breaking 73-homer season in 2001. Judge’s season is reminiscent of Bonds’ dominance back then.
Cora declined to compare this year’s Judge to Bonds or whether it would be the real home run record if he does pass Maris. Performance-enhancing drugs were such a big part of the story of the remarkable seasons put together by Bonds, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa, and not a factor for Judge, who is tested like all other players in the modern game.
“He’s doing it in an era that it’s very tough to hit, let’s put it that way. Leave it at that,” Cora said. “The separation between him and the rest of the players is huge. The opposite-field home runs are not where they used to be, especially in 2019, and this guy keeps doing what he’s doing.”