NEW YORK — The baseball game at Yankee Stadium on Thursday night felt more like watching Tigers Woods making a run at The Masters or Roger Federer trying to slam a championship point down the line at Wimbledon.
Moments of quiet followed by a loud whoosh of emotion, then silence falling like a curtain, all eyes focused on one person.
The Yankees clinched a postseason berth with a 5-4 walkoff victory against the Red Sox, and it’s likely few in the crowd of 43,123 cared as they left the ballpark. They had come to watch Aaron Judge chase history.
Judge had his chances. Red Sox pitchers threw him 11 strikes over the course of five plate appearances. He was 0 for 2 with three walks, none that were intentional.
That left him with 60 home runs with 13 games remaining, two shy of breaking the American League record of 61 set by Roger Maris in 1961.
The three walks matched a season high for Judge. The crowd booed each time he trotted to first base.
The jeering was particularly loud when Red Sox starter Michael Wacha walked Judge on four pitches in the first inning, none that were close to the plate.
Before the game, manager Alex Cora had all but promised the Sox would challenge Judge , saying he hadn’t come to New York for a vacation.
But Wacha’s free pass was a product of poor command, not a lack of courage. Judge was hitless in 14 previous at-bats against Wacha with nine strikeouts.
“I hate walks,” Wacha said. “I was nails warming up in the bullpen, and when I got to the mound it was a struggle. It was a crazy environment out there for sure, but I didn’t want to walk him.”
It didn’t help that after Wacha finished warming up for the inning, umpire Carlos Torres came out to the mound to give him a pre-marked ball to make it easier to identify if Judge homered.
“A distraction, for sure,” Wacha said. “I wish I had gotten a little heads-up before the game about that. Then between innings Carlos told me what they were doing.”
Cora compared the entire scene to watching Barry Bonds in 2001 when he set the major league record of 73 home runs. From a strict baseball sense, that was true.
But Bonds was a product of baseball’s Steroid Era. His record, while official, remains tainted.
No such suspicions surround Judge or cloud his pursuit. Baseball will celebrate his passing Maris if the time comes.
It’s also a different climate for fans, who can now follow games from their phones or on social media. The sports world pauses to watch whenever Judge gets out of the dugout with a bat in his hands.
Wacha walked Judge on seven pitches in the third inning, then struck him out in the fifth. John Schreiber clearly worked around Judge in the seventh, then precisely located a changeup that Anthony Rizzo hit on the ground for an inning-ending double play.
Judge’s last at-bat in the ninth inning of a 4-4 game was pure theatre. He hit a 2-2 fastball from Matt Barnes to center field that Kiké Hernández caught at the base of the wall, 404 feet from home plate.
The camera angle on Fox made it appear Judge had hit the ball to outer space, and the crowd inside the park thought so, too.
Cora didn’t flinch when asked if he thought of intentionally walking Judge in that spot.
“No, no. We pitched to him,” Cora said. “No.”
Welcome to the spectacle Rich Hill, who faces the Yankees on Friday night. The 42-year-old lefthander faced Bonds six times early in his career, so this will not be unfamiliar ground for him.
But he will throw some pitches in Augusta-like silence. In a team sport, Judge is a singular sensation.