Shohei Ohtani’s 35th home run of the season Monday reminded the New York Yankees that he is a baseball titan much like reigning American League MVP Aaron Judge.
With Judge on the injured list with a toe sprain, there was no duel of spectacular, towering home runs like in previous meetings between the Yankees and Angels. Yet, Ohtani’s home run represented more than an awesome flash of power.
Ohtani showed he’s capable of at least getting close to Judge’s single-season American League record of 62 home runs, perhaps even surpassing it.
“Records are meant to be broken,” Judge said before the Angels swept the Yankees on Wednesday. “It’ll be exciting for the game if he went out and got 63-plus. So we’ll see what happens.
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“I still got quite a few years left in this game. If he breaks it, then that will give me another opportunity to go out there and try to do something special, but I’m not really too focused on that right now.”
With 65 games remaining, Ohtani is on pace to hit 58 home runs. For Judge, he said he didn’t start to feel the weight of his record run until he came close to tying Roger Maris’ 61.
“Everybody in the stadium standing up, but they’re not cheering anymore and it didn’t feel like a regular ballgame to me,” Judge reflected. “So that kind of changed things for me, but through the whole process I was thinking of winning ball games.”
Much has been the same for Ohtani, whose last three home runs came in close games. He homered in the ninth inning Saturday to spark a rally that forced extra innings in a wild win over the Houston Astros. He hit another home run in a one-run loss to the Astros on Sunday and hit a game-tying blast Monday in an extra-innings win.
“Everything he does is calculated to be the best player in the world for the purpose of winning,” Angels manager Phil Nevin said. “Everything else that comes along with it is great, but he wants to win.”
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Judge said the stadium environment proved to be one of the most difficult aspects of his record-breaking run last year. Fan reaction during his at-bats made it difficult for him to focus on trying to help the team win.
“I led off a game against Pittsburgh and Boston with the double,” Judge recalled. “There’s almost a sense of like the fans are upset and understand that they want to see history.
“When it gets to that point, it’s all mental. Even Shohei, he can hit 100 homers, 80 homers. He’s got that type of talent … but it’s moments like that, it’s about just being mentally able to block out the noise or lack of noise in those moments.”
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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.