“What he did was amazing,” said Seattle’s Robinson Cano, who won the event as a Yankee in 2011. “I’ve never seen anything like that. Not only the home runs, but to go opposite field that many times? He made this ballpark look like nothing. I thought I’ve seen it all before, but this guy, he’s on another level. He doesn’t even look tired.”
Judge needed a late flurry to outlast Bour, the Miami first baseman, in the first round. He got it, with 23 homers, the most of any player in any round. Then he eliminated Bellinger, the National League’s answer to Judge, who plays for the Los Angeles Dodgers, 13-12, before easily passing Sano, a young star for the Minnesota Twins, who hit 10.
In the final round, Judge’s drives visited an array of ballpark destinations — a staircase, bushes, the seats above left, center and right field, and, twice, the garishly whimsical home run sculpture that towers above left-center field. About the only area he did not reach in the final round was the Miami version of the Judge’s Chambers, with fans in robes and wigs clustered above left field.
“It was a blast,” said Judge, whose longest homer was 513 feet. “I enjoyed every minute of it. Watching all the other guys swing, coming here early, talking to the media — everything about today was fantastic.”
A year ago, Judge was a Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRider, hoping for a promotion to the major leagues that finally came in early August. He struck out in half his at-bats for the Yankees and hit just .179. He typed the sickly batting average at the top of the notes app on his phone last winter, and has looked at it every day since.
Now Judge is hitting .329, with 30 home runs, 66 runs batted in and an on-base plus slugging percentage of 1.139 — better than the career marks of Ted Williams, Lou Gehrig, Barry Bonds and every other player besides Babe Ruth.
Asked to identify the face of baseball, Tampa Bay pitcher Chris Archer acknowledged the obvious. It is not Mike Trout or Bryce Harper. It is Judge.
“First of all, he plays in New York, and second, he’s a presence — I mean, he’s 6 foot 6, 270,” Archer said, underestimating Judge’s actual size. “And he’s doing what he’s doing. So at this very particular moment, it’s him. I’d say, in the past, Trout, definitely. Harper, definitely. But right now? Aaron Judge.”
Archer was at Yankee Stadium last August when Judge homered in his first at-bat before his late-summer strikeout binge. He has seen Judge rapidly evolve into a patient slugger who forces pitchers to feed him a strike.
“And he’s a good person,” Archer said. “You can tell he’s very humble and keeps his nose clean. People say this, and he has a lot more to accomplish, but he may be the second coming of Derek Jeter.”
Even Jeter, though, did not make an All-Star team until his third full season, 1998, when he was on his way to a second championship. Judge is seeking his first postseason appearance, his legacy still in its infancy. But his legend is growing.
“When you walk up to him, he’s way bigger than you think he is,” said Boston’s Mookie Betts, the starting center fielder for the American League. “He looks like he belongs in the N.B.A. Obviously, his ability’s gotten him to where he is, but that part’s not the amazing part. It’s just that he’s so big. For a human to get like that is pretty amazing to me.”
Brad Mills, the Cleveland Indians bench coach who is managing the A.L. as Terry Francona recovers from a heart procedure, put Judge in the No. 3 spot in the lineup. The reason, he said, is that Judge has been such a big story this season, and Mills wanted him to bat in the top of the first inning.
“I’ve seen it from afar, the year he’s had — obviously been the best hitter in the American League,” said Washington’s Max Scherzer, the N.L.’s starting pitcher. “I think they will all agree with that. I enjoy facing the best.”
Judge has earned such praise, but he was careful to acknowledge that Giancarlo Stanton, the slugger for the host Marlins who will start at designated hitter for the N.L., was the favorite in the Home Run Derby. Stanton, who is 6-6 and 245 pounds, was an inspiration to Judge in the minors.
“He was the big guy that was having success in the big leagues,” said Judge, who studied video of Stanton then. “I was like, ‘What’s this guy doing that I can incorporate in my swing?’ He uses his legs well, his barrel stays through the zone for a long time, so he’s able to barrel up a lot of balls, and his room for error is real large. Just his swing — and he’s an athlete out there, too.”
Stanton, who won the Home Run Derby in San Diego last July, agreed with the clear similarities but quickly grew weary of questions about Judge before batting practice.
“I’d like to meet him,” Stanton said. “Hopefully, he has to answer as many questions about me as I do about him.”
Judge looked right at home — in Stanton’s home park — all night, and his Yankees teammate Gary Sanchez eliminated Stanton in the first round. The evening belonged to Judge, who never knew he would be here so quickly.
But he never knew he would not, either.
“There was a lot of unknown,” Judge said, “and I think that’s kind of what motivated me, to see how good could you be.”
For the first half of the baseball season, no one has been better.