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A Walk in the Park

When people are stressed or anxious, they try to find a way to clear their mind of whatever situation they are facing. Often, people will go for a walk to help them collect their thoughts. This applies almost universally throughout society, and Aaron Judge was no exception to this on Wednesday night in Toronto.

In the last week, Judge has gone on many anxious walks. He had taken 33 trips to home plate in the last seven games following his 60th home run this season. Judge tallied just five hits in this span, good for a .238 average, well below his season-long mark of .313. While Judge wasn’t hitting the ball well, he was not given much to work with from the pitchers he faced. In this seven game span, Judge was walked 12 times, including four in Tuesday night’s game. Being the only player walked on either team, Judge became the first Yankee since Mickey Mantle in 1958 to achieve this feat. But this wasn't the history Judge was looking to make.

As each at-bat passed, tension built. Judge had cameras honed in on him at all moments of the game, locking every television set in the country into Judge’s at-bats as soon as he began his walk from the on-deck circle to home plate. ABC’s college football broadcasts cut to YES Network for every one of his plate appearances. Pitchers buried pitches low and away so they would have no chance of being on the wrong side of history. Fans grew restless, mercilessly booing pitchers for shying away from Judge. Pressure was mounting at all angles.

Judge, however, did not outwardly show the effects of it. He remained disciplined at the plate, churning out quality at-bats and working deep into counts. He was more than happy to take his 90-foot walks down to first base after a hard fought at bat. Yet, it appeared that Judge’s swing had a certain tentativeness to it. His swings were just missing, leading to more foul tips and fly balls rather than line-drives and home runs. He appeared to be internally grappling with the situation. The ever-stoic, quiet leader was beginning to show his nerves.

But who wouldn’t? Each trip to the plate had the chance to rewrite history. The entire family of Roger Maris, the holder of the 61 year-old record, was in the stadium for every game after Judge hit home run #60. All 60,000 fans in the stadium were standing and recording every pitch with eager anticipation with millions more watching at home. Players on both teams hung on the top of the dugout steps to get a view. Reporters at The Athletic even interviewed Red Sox bullpen pitchers and outfielders to ask what they would do with the baseball if they were able to catch home run #61. Stress was present at every turn for Aaron Judge.

His seventh inning at-bat on Wednesday was a continuation of this. Judge worked the count full for what seemed like the hundredth time this week, fouling a pitch to the backstop. Judge typically stays with his back foot firmly planted in the batter’s box in between pitches. However, Judge did something different in this at-bat. He took a walk. But this one wasn’t like the countless others he had taken in the last week. He took a few steps away from the box, collecting his thoughts and processing the situation, something he almost never does. “I liked how the swing felt,” Judge said in his postgame interview with YES Network’s Meredith Marakovits. “I wanted to slow down the moment and feel that again.”

Judge’s stroll was just a few steps towards the third base dugout and then back into the batter’s box. The effect of the trip was evident. As he stepped back into the box and eyed down Blue Jays pitcher Tim Mayza, his confidence was reflected in his stance once again. Mayza delivered the pitch, and 3.2 seconds later it landed in the Blue Jays bullpen in left field. Judge had finally achieved the historic feat, tying Roger Maris’ American League single season home run record. The relief on Judge’s face was apparent. The crowd roared and his Yankee teammates rushed onto the field. He had sent all the extra pressure and media attention out into that bullpen with the baseball.

All it took was a walk in the park.

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