CINCINNATI — The Red Sox open a four-game series at Yankee Stadium on Thursday night, which means approximately 16-20 chances for Aaron Judge to make history against them.
That point was driven home to the Red Sox pitching staff on Tuesday night.
The Sox had just finished up a victory against the Reds when the clubhouse televisions showed Judge hitting his 60th home run, two shy of breaking the American League record of 61 set by Roger Maris in 1961.
“He did it again,” whooped Rob Refsnyder, who played parts of two seasons with Judge in New York.
Alex Verdugo playfully wondered aloud which Red Sox pitcher would give up No. 62.
“You, Nicky?” he said to Nick Pivetta, who did not respond.
It very well could be. The rotation for the series is Michael Wacha, Rich Hill, Pivetta, and Brayan Bello.
Judge is 5 of 9 against Pivetta this season with two home runs. Judge is hitless in 14 career at-bats against Wacha with nine strikeouts. He’s 2 for 4 against Hill but hasn’t faced him this season. Judge faced Bello on Sept. 14 and was 1 for 2 with a walk.
Judge was 2 for 4 with two doubles against the Pirates on Wednesday. Now the drama ramps up with the Red Sox coming into the Bronx.
There is some Red Sox-Yankees history at play here. Maris hit No. 61 off Red Sox righthander Tracy Stallard on Oct. 1, 1961, in front of a modest crowd of 23,154 at Yankee Stadium.
Who’s the next Stallard?
“You can’t think that way,” reliever Tyler Danish said. “I’ll pitch to the situation and not whether he can set a record. He’s deserving of it; he’s had a great season. But I just want to get him out.”
Judge has hit .309 with five homers in 14 games against the Red Sox this season. He connected twice at Fenway Park on Sept. 13, against Pivetta and Garrett Whitlock.
He also had two against the Sox on July 14 in the Bronx. Those were off Pivetta and Kaleb Ort. The other was Aug.12 at Fenway, off Nate Eovaldi.
Sox manager Alex Cora intentionally walked Judge once all season and regretted the decision. That was on Sept. 12 in the 10th inning of a 4-4 game at Fenway.
Judge was walked with a runner at third and two outs. Jeurys Familia then walked Giancarlo Stanton and Gleyber Torres ripped a three-run double.
“It turned the [game] around when we walked him,” Cora said. “Solo shots are solo shots.”
Reliever Ryan Brasier first faced Judge in 2019 and struck him out. Judge is 3 for 7 against him with one home run.
“Nothing changes,” Brasier said. “Just trying to get outs and attack him like always. What else can you do?
“I’ve pitched in the playoffs and the World Series, it’s essentially the same thing. The fans will be on their feet the whole time. You focus on what you need to do.”
The Sox have been giving young pitchers a longer look over the last two weeks. That could change for the Yankees series.
“We’ll take our chances,” Cora said. “There’s a lot at stake for them and teams around the league. If you look at us throughout the year, there’s only one intentional walk [against Judge]. We’ll be smart about it.”
What is universal among the Sox is the respect they have for Judge.
“He’s having an outstanding season, one of the best offensive seasons I have ever seen,” Cora said. “For a while there he was carrying that offense. He’s doing a lot of good things and playing good defense in center field, too.”
Said Brasier: “You can’t help but follow along and watch what he’s doing and what [Albert] Pujols is doing with the Cardinals. Those guys are good for baseball.
“Judge is hitting for average and power. You don’t see that as much these days. You have to give him credit. If he does it, great. Hopefully not against us.”