If every home run has a story, there hasn't been much to say about New York's most-discussed power couple through this season's first two weeks. Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton have only six home runs between them, and Stanton has been hearing more boos than cheers in Yankee Stadium so far. But fear not, big-fly aficionados: Even though there's consternation in Yankee Nation right now, it's not a stretch to say those shots will come soon enough.
Last season, from the first to the 111th, each home run from Judge and Stanton redefined the idea of what it meant to be a power hitter in an era when even the smallest middle infielder has a shot at 25. These were no mere wall-scrapers, nor simply another way to put runs on the scoreboard. Their hits were performance art, appointment viewing; vicious, awe-inspiring beauty encapsulated in the simple swing of a bat. The outrageous speed and distance and ease with which the pair deposited balls into outfield seats was an opportunity to celebrate and gawk at the extremes of the human body's physical limits.
As the two moved into the season's final months -- and moved toward their historic unification in the heart of the Yankees' lineup this year -- each Judge and Stanton homer had special meaning, whether it was for the record books or simply one of those melt-your-face-off moments that will linger for years to come. Each at-bat was a must-watch event, if only for the possibilities one pitch could create.
Ask around a major league clubhouse and you'll understand.
"You came to expect rockets off the bat," says Justin Bour, Stanton's former Marlins teammate.
"Every night it was almost like, 'What will he do this time?'" says Greg Bird, Judge's teammate with the Yankees.
"Giancarlo's last at-bat in Miami, when he was going for 60, I saw Derek Jeter step out of the owner's box to watch," says Marlins third-base coach Fredi Gonzalez. "If Jeter's coming out, you know that's a big moment."
There were 6,105 regular-season home runs hit last year, and chances are the ones from Judge and Stanton stand out. At least that was the consensus among players across the majors during spring training this year as they tried to wrap their minds around this generation's equivalent of the Mickey Mantle-Roger Maris combination inhabiting the Bronx.
Time and again, the sheer impressiveness of their work elicits one word: "Awesome," says Max Scherzer, last season's NL Cy Young winner who -- like the rest of us -- first saw the two together at the Home Run Derby in Miami. "And now they're in the same lineup."
Judge's Statcast blast
Heading into late July, it seemed the excitement surrounding the Yankees right fielder had already passed its peak. The Home Run Derby champion hadn't hit one out in 10 games, the longest homer-less stretch of his season so far. There were questions about his approach at the plate -- whether he was too anxious or overmatched, whether pitchers had finally solved Aaron Judge.
On July 21 in Seattle, it seemed like it might be more of the same. In the top of the first inning, Judge struck out looking; in the third, he hit a sacrifice fly and drove in the first run of the day. If anything, Mariners starting pitcher Andrew Moore had done his best to limit the damage. So when he stepped on the mound with two on and one out and Judge coming to the plate, Moore thought he had a strategy to get the slugger out again.
Andrew Moore, Mariners pitcher: The first two at-bats, we got him with the fastball, away. At some point, I was going to get inside his hands. I wanted to move his feet a little, get him uncomfortable.
Mike Zunino, Mariners catcher: You've got to be really careful around Judge. It's tough to pitch to him because he has so much leverage. He's so big. There's so much room that you're thinking you have a huge strike zone to work with, but he's enormous and he covers a lot. I've seen him drive balls on the outside and then on the inside. A high pitch for a normal person is at his belt. We were going to have to work out a lot farther than what we're normally comfortable with.
Judge: The pitcher had good action on his fastball and had a big breaking ball. The biggest thing for me was that I was going to sit on the fastball. I don't try to go out there where [a pitcher's] good pitch is. I try to hunt mistakes.
Moore quickly falls behind in the count, two balls and one strike.
Zunino: Moore's in a tough spot.
Moore: I've got to execute the next pitch.
Zunino: We went with a breaking ball. It's a chase pitch. We want him to expand his strike zone.
Moore: Curveball. I'm looking to go way down in the zone.
Zunino: The pitch is coming in, and it's not where we want it. I'm thinking the worst case.
Judge: Hanging curveball.
Moore: The thing's belt high.
Judge: I saw it pop up. I knew that's the one I got to go for. It's the ones that stay on the same plane as the fastball and dart out that are the tough ones. The ones you kind of see them come up, it's, Here we go. Don't miss it.
Zunino: I'm like, Oh no, please miss it.
Moore: He didn't miss it.
Kyle Seager, Mariners third baseman: He got it. The crack of the bat wasn't as clean-sounding as some of the other home runs I've heard from him, but this was definitely going out.
Moore: I'm already thinking about the next batter.
Zunino: He crushed it. After he connects, it's honestly a little ooh and ahh. There's the perfect trajectory and angle and it's going over the visitors bullpen in left field. Then it's still going and now you're waiting to see where it lands. And then it's in the upper deck. To see such a long home run like that is something that puts you in awe.
"You see the Pacific Ocean over there? Yeah it went OVER that." pic.twitter.com/iN03ZDn450— New York Yankees (@Yankees) July 22, 2017
But when Statcast doesn't measure Judge's home run, chaos ensues. The Yankees' Twitter account joked that the home run "broke Statcast."
Statcast was put on 10 day DL by that Judge blast. It pulled an oblique trying to measure it— ChrisShearn (@ChrisShearnYES) July 22, 2017
Zunino: It was tough to tell how far that was. Even if Statcast said it was low 400s, there's no way. It went farther than that. That was a no-doubter. You never forget the ones that got smoked.
Moore: I didn't watch the video until the next day, when I pulled it up online. Some of my buddies were giving me a hard time about it, but Judge is a great talent. He beat me pretty good on that one.
The dent heard 'round the field
With Judge's home run slump in full gear, it was Stanton's turn to shine. By early September, the Miami outfielder had overtaken his counterpart in the Bronx for home run supremacy. His hits not only occupied some of the highest positions on the Statcast leaderboard, Stanton's homers changed the way people thought about the long ball itself. By Sept. 4, he had 52 homers -- ninth all-time among National League hitters -- when the Marlins hosted the Nationals in the first game of a three-game series. In the bottom of the third inning, with the score at 0-0 and the bases empty, Stanton strode to the plate.
Fredi Gonzalez, Marlins third-base coach: I moved five feet in from the third-base coach's box and then another few feet to the side, toward the dugout. I didn't want to get killed by a line drive if he hits one. I've been on the field during those hard hits, and the infielders are looking at one another like, Holy s---, this guy might kill someone.
Michael Taylor, Nationals center fielder: Everyone knows he has tremendous power, so I moved a little deeper than normal. I've seen him hit quite a few home runs to all parts of the park, so I've got to be ready for anything.
Anthony Rendon, Nationals third baseman: I'm just glad I don't have to move in on him. There'd been a few times in my career where I had to play in, like it's late in the game, and I'm thinking, I might die right here.
Brad Ziegler, Marlins relief pitcher: It's getting late in the season, and he's destroying everything. You're watching every at-bat because of what he might do with the ball.
Matt Wieters, Nationals catcher: We've got to adjust with him, mix up pitches. He's too strong for us to stay in one place in an at-bat. We've got to keep moving around the zone.
The Nats starter, A.J. Cole, goes 2-and-2 on Stanton. Wieters calls for a fastball low and away, to get Stanton to chase or freeze him on a borderline pitch. Cole unleashes a 96 mph fastball, but it misses its target. The ball's chest-high to Stanton, down the plate's heart. Stanton picks up his left foot, his hands coiled behind him. Everyone on the field can feel what's about to happen.
Rendon: His body is coming my way. It looks like he's going to pull it. I see his chest opening up but his hands are still back, so in that split-second I'm like, I've got to get ready. I think he's about to pull it. He's opening up. He's going to hook this.
But there's this: Stanton's hands are still trailing the pitch. He's late.
Kyle Barraclough, Marlins reliever: It's almost like he got fooled.
Ziegler: Like he got beat. There's no way he can square that up.
Rendon: He's way behind now. The next thing I know, WHAM!
Barraclough: Smashes it.
Rendon: I'm like, Wha-?
Rich Waltz, play-by-play announcer, on the Fox Sports Florida broadcast: Stanton drives it to right field! That's deep! And it isssss ... GONE! Number 53! Opposite field!
The ball's scorched down the line at 99 mph. It clears the padded fence in less than three seconds.
Ziegler: You heard it, all the way across the field: Doooong. I'm like, That wasn't the foul pole. What did he hit?
Barraclough: Was that the TV camera?
Gonzalez: Giancarlo hit the camera.
Rendon: He nailed the camera.
Stanton: I saw it.
Stanton's shot dents the Fox Sports camera's housing, the metal mashed like a soda can.
Waltz, on the broadcast: That's a sizable dent.
Gonzalez: I'm watching the infielders, and they're looking at one another. Rendon's looking at his shortstop, sorta like, Can you believe he just did that? These are major league players and they're in awe of what Giancarlo did. For a right-handed hitter to do that, opposite field?
Rendon: That was power. He hits it way back here, and it goes out on a line? That's so impressive. Down the road, I get to tell people I shared the same field as that guy.
Stanton: I'm pretty sure the camera view was pretty cool.
Waltz, on the broadcast: This just in: We've been told that the zoom is broken. Stanton homers and knocks out our right-field camera.
Rendon: Man, that hit really sticks out.
Gonzalez: September was just a fun month to watch him.
Todd Hollandsworth, TV color analyst, on the broadcast: He broke the camera. They're doing surgery on it right now. He killed the camera. It's dead. [Stanton's] breaking stadiums and killing cameras.
Stanton: I didn't see the dent until later.
The replacement part, Fox Sports says, costs $50,000.
Rendon: If anyone can afford it, Giancarlo Stanton can.
With just 37 home runs by early September, Judge began to recapture some of his magic in the regular season's final month. By Sept. 24, he'd posted three multihomer games in two weeks, pushing his season total to 48 -- putting him just two home runs from breaking Mark McGwire's 30-year-old rookie record. The next day, against the Royals, setting a record was the furthest thing from Judge's mind.
Judge: People were saying, You're only a couple away. We were still in the race for what was going to happen in the wild card, or the division and stuff like that. I wasn't too worried about home runs. I was focused on beating the Royals so we can keep winning and keep our position in the wild card. If I hit a home run today, then that's great. But the most important thing is winning.
Ned Yost, Royals manager: I didn't want him to hit 50 against us.
Salvador Perez, Royals catcher: He was only a couple homers from the record.
Jake Junis, Royals starting pitcher: Everyone knew he had 48.
Marcus Thames, Yankees assistant hitting coach: Before the game I told him, "Just go play. Don't think about anything else. Get ready and get a good pitch to hit."
Judge: I was feeling good at the plate. I watched a lot of video on the pitchers that they had. The biggest thing for me was just trying to work on getting something out over the middle. Instead of picking out specific pitches I just looked middle and hunted out that pitch.
Junis: I faced Judge in the low minors. He was huge even then but he only got a hit or two off me out of four at-bats. No homers. I'd remember that. I was feeling pretty good.
Perez: Judge doesn't miss many pitches. We've got to work ahead in the count. We can't get behind because he's gonna hurt you. He's got a good approach, good hand-eye coordination. If we get ahead, we can get him to chase, and I wanted Judge to chase.
Junis: I got him out in the first inning. When he came up to bat in the third, you could feel it. Everyone in that stadium wanted him to hit a home run. It got loud.
Junis fell behind, three balls and one strike.
Perez: We've got to get back to the count. Fastball.
Junis: The pitch was up and in and I thought it was out of the strike zone. I didn't think he could handle it. I thought I got in on him. I made the exact pitch I wanted. I didn't think he could do anything with it. If he doesn't swing, it's probably a walk.
Judge: I was just trying to put a good swing on it.
Junis: He didn't get all of it, but he's huge. He lifted it to right field and it just kept going.
Perez: That was gone.
Thames: I'm standing along the dugout rail when he comes back. He comes up to me and I say, Anyone can hit one.
Junis: I filed that away for the next at-bat. That next one, I threw him some off-speed and a couple sliders and struck him out. I wasn't going to the fastball. I wasn't going to make the same mistake.
With two outs in the bottom of the seventh inning and the Yankees up 6-3, Judge steps in to face Royals reliever Trevor Cahill. The crowd rises to their feet. Cahill throws a 2-1 changeup in the middle of the plate.
Perez: The sound is different when Judge hits a ball out of the park. It's really sharp. He swings and I see that ball flying away. Honestly, it looked good.
Thames: I see the ball go, and all I'm thinking is, Wow.
Judge: It was kind of overwhelming after I hit it. Saying hi to everybody, high-fiving everybody in the dugout. They told me, You gotta get out there.
Judge steps out of the dugout and raises a hand to acknowledge the crowd.
Judge: I really didn't know what was going on until after I hit the 50th one, but then I was kind of like, Whoa. It was a pretty cool day.
Greg Bird, Yankees first baseman: He's never been about the attention. He'll tell you it didn't matter, but he went through so much stuff in that second half, so for him to get to 50 and us being in the dugout, it was a special moment for the team.