No. 60 was just the beginning.
Good morning, I’m Dan Gartland. I’m still buzzing after last night’s thriller in the Bronx.
In today’s SI:AM:
👨⚖️ No. 60 for Judge
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No. 60 was just the beginning
For the first eight and a half innings of last night’s game against the Pirates, the 40,157 fans who came out to Yankee Stadium had to have been sorely disappointed. The New York bullpen had totally imploded, giving up seven runs in three innings of work. Even worse, Aaron Judge—the guy everyone had come out to see chase history—was 0-for-3.
But the bottom of the ninth inning was easily the most exciting half inning of baseball I’ve seen all season. The Yankees entered the final frame trailing 8–4, but Judge had one more chance to make history. Leading off the inning, he obliterated a sinker that Pirates reliever Wil Crowe left right over the middle of the plate, sending it 430 feet over the wall in left field. It was Judge’s 60th home run of the season, making him the first player since 2001 to hit at least that many and putting him just one behind Roger Maris’s American League record.
Judge’s historic blast wasn’t even the most dramatic homer of the inning, though. After the next three Yankees batters reached base, Giancarlo Stanton came to the plate with the bases loaded, trailing 8–5. On a 2–2 count, he stung a classic Stanton homer—a line drive that flew over the wall in left in a flash—for a walk-off grand slam.
After the game, the always-humble Judge was more interested in talking about the team win than his milestone homer.
“It was an all-around great team game,” Judge told reporters. “That’s what this team is made up of. We were kind of slow to start, especially against a good rookie pitcher, but guys worked hard until the very end. So I will remember those four at-bats leading up to Giancarlo’s grand slam walk off.”
Judge won’t say it but I will: What he’s doing is absolutely ridiculous. Not only did he become the first player in two decades and one of only six ever to hit 60 homers in a season, he woke up this morning leading the American League in all three triple crown stats (.316 batting average, 60 homers, 128 RBIs). Batting average isn’t a sexy stat anymore, but to be having one of the best power-hitting seasons in history while also making contact better than anyone in the AL is outrageous.
What else to watch over the season’s final two weeks
The MLB season ends two weeks from today and there are plenty of things to pay attention to other than Judge’s pursuit of Maris’s record, including …
Another home run chase
Albert Pujols is sitting on 698 career home runs after hitting just one in his last eight games. The Cardinals have 13 games left to play, so time is ticking for the 42-year-old legend.
The Guardians control the AL Central
The biggest series left in this division race is taking place this week, with Cleveland visiting Chicago for three games with the second-place White Sox. Coming into the series, the Guardians held a four-game lead over the Sox. Chicago needed a sweep to not only cut the division lead to one, but also win the season tiebreaker.
The series opener last night was wild. Sox ace Dylan Cease was pretty close to his typical self, going six innings while allowing only a single run, and the White Sox took a 3–1 lead into the 7th. The Guardians tied the game up against Chicago’s bullpen and the game went to extras. After scoring two in the top of the 10th, Cleveland sent out dominant closer Emmanuel Clase, who has given up just six earned runs since the beginning of May. Chicago got to the righthander for two runs to tie the game. But then the Guardians poured it on in the 11th, adding five runs. The game ended 10–7 and likely ended the playoff hopes of a disappointing White Sox team.
The NL East race
This is the only division that’s realistically still up for grabs. (Every other division leader has at least a five-game lead.) The Mets (95–55) currently have a one-game lead over the Braves (93–55). Atlanta has picked up serious ground over the past six weeks. After losing four out of five to the Mets in Queens in early August, the Braves are 29–9 while the Mets are 25–16. The two teams will square off in a critical three-game series in Atlanta beginning on Sept. 30.
The wild-card races
The AL wild card spots are awfully close to being wrapped up. In order, they belong to the Blue Jays, Rays and Mariners. The Orioles are five games behind Seattle and the White Sox are 5½ games back. It’s mostly about seeding at this point, unless one of the top three teams collapses while Baltimore or Chicago gets hot.
The NL race is more interesting. Those spots are currently held by the Braves, Padres and Phillies, but the Brewers are just 2½ games behind Philadelphia. Tonight’s Mets-Brewers game has major playoff implications for both teams.
The Dodgers’ win total
The Dodgers are 103–45 and don’t have much to play for after clinching the division all the way back on Sept. 13, but they do have a shot at finishing the season with one of the best records ever. With 14 games left to play, they’d have to go 11–3 to tie the 1998 Yankees for third-most wins in a season.
The best of Sports Illustrated
In today’s Daily Cover, Richard Johnson has the story of Eastern Kentucky football coach Walt Wells, who suffered a heart attack in late August and only survived thanks to the quick actions of a few staffers.
Johnson also has a stock report on some NFL draft prospects after the third week of the college football season. … With NBA training camps on the horizon, Rohan Nadkarni broke down how each team in the West figures to fare this season. … Kevin Sweeney tried to make sense of how an end to the NBA’s one-and-done rule would change college basketball.
Around the sports world
WNBA players won’t sign with Russian teams while Brittney Griner remains detained there. … Nebraska reportedly has a list of top candidates for its vacant football coaching job. … Dodgers great Maury Wills has died. … Javier Báez has stepped up to offer aid to those impacted by Hurricane Fiona in his native Puerto Rico. … Bills lineman Bobby Hart has been suspended for hitting a Titans coach. … The Avalanche signed Nathan MacKinnon to a contract extension that makes him the highest-paid player in the NHL.
The top five...
… other moments in baseball last night:
5. The Rangers’ crisp triple play.
4. Dansby Swanson’s nice stop and strong throw from deep in the hole.
3. Francisco Lindor’s go-ahead grand slam.
2. Josh Harrison’s diving catch.
1. The Blue Jays’ 18-run outburst against the Phillies.
Now that Zdeno Chara has retired from the NHL, how many active NHL players have faced the Maple Leafs in the second round of the playoffs?
Yesterday’s SIQ: Other than center field, what was the only other position that Willie Mays played during his final season in 1973?
- Left field
- Right field
- First base
- Third base
Answer: First base. It’s pretty strange Mays didn’t follow the usual career arc of a center fielder and move to one of the outfield corners as he aged. He never played more than six games in those spots in a single season, logging just 13 games in left and 13 in right in 22 seasons.
During a lousy 1967 season, there was already talk that Mays, then 36, might have to give up his spot in center—but he wasn’t ready to retire.
“I’d like to play for a long time more,” he said in an SI article from August of that year, “but I’ll stay around only if I do a good job. I’ll have to make some adjustments, maybe bat second and hit more to right field. Maybe I’ll have to play left or right so I won’t have to run so much. But I won’t play first base like Mickey [Mantle]—not for the Giants. If I played first and [Willie] McCovey went to the outfield, we’d weaken ourselves at two places. They tried him in the outfield before.”
With McCovey limited to 105 games in 1971 due to a knee injury, Mays saw his first significant action at first and, perhaps not coincidentally, enjoyed an offensive resurgence as he led the NL with a .425 on-base percentage. He was traded to the Mets a year later and rounded out his career splitting time between first and center.
From the Vault: Sept. 21, 2009
In 2009, Adrian Peterson was the coolest player in football. Sure, there were great quarterbacks such as Peyton Manning and Tom Brady, but there’s something special about an every-down back who runs with the combination of speed, power and vision that Peterson had.
The game he had in the season opener against the Browns, which Damon Hack wrote about in his cover story, was a typical one during that time:
On Sunday, Peterson displayed his own gifts in a 34–20 victory at Cleveland Browns Stadium, tearing up the Browns’ defense with the kind of speed and violent running that harks back to the game's greats. With Jim Brown in attendance and Brett Favre making his first start for Minnesota, it was Peterson who displayed the greatest star power, toughing out 180 rushing yards on 25 carries and three touchdowns, including a 64-yard dash down the left sideline that featured five broken tackles and two stiff arms.
He played through dehydration and a bloody gash on his left arm, and spent a portion of halftime vomiting. For Peterson, it was worth it. Cleveland was one of the six teams that passed on drafting him out of Oklahoma in 2007 because of concerns about his durability.
More than Favre or any member of Minnesota's defense, Peterson is the heart of a 48-year-old franchise that's still in pursuit of its first Super Bowl trophy.
That 64-yard run that Hack describes is Peterson at his best. I’ve watched it over and over again on YouTube since I first looked it up. He finished the season with 1,383 yards (fifth in the league) and a league-best 18 rushing touchdowns. The funny thing is, Peterson was so good that his yardage numbers that year, gaudy as they were, were pedestrian compared to what he had done and what he would go on to do. He averaged 4.4 yards per carry, down from 5.6 as a rookie in 2007, and 86.4 yards per game, compared to 110 per game in ’08. And it was just the start of what is surely a Hall of Fame career.
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