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Aaron Judge following Derek Jeter’s blueprint to greatness

Derek Jeter and Aaron Judge are not linked by homers. Their connection is one of attitude.

Jeter thrived in the Yankee cauldron and big moments because he had the mindset to avoid the personal, believing glory would find him if he fixated on winning and excelling as a teammate. Stars as talented as Randy Johnson and Alex Rodriguez made it tougher on themselves here by obsessing on their success, thinking that the team could not succeed without them.

Judge is the heir to Jeter — the best homegrown player since the Hall of Fame shortstop. And the temperament is so similar as well. Judge’s ability — even while chasing immortality — to shut out the noise is a super power — as much as, well, his super power.

“I keep saying over and over, Aaron Judge … everyone should just watch and take notice,’’ Aaron Boone said. “I can say this because I’ve lived this and he’s shown this: He puts his focus on being a great teammate and winning. He knows everything else will take care of itself.”

Which is why in real time, Judge’s historic 60th homer was so bizarre. It came leading off the ninth inning Tuesday night and — of course — thrilled a crowd that mostly would have been heading toward the Major Deegan if not for his looming at-bat. Because it came in a game in which the Yankees had not played well and allowed the Pirates to build a four-run lead, and the homer made it 8-5. So it felt like he was going to tie Babe Ruth at 60 homers and move within one of Roger Maris’ American League record within a loss.

Aaron Judge has followed the Derek Jeter (inset) path of taking a team-first attitude above all else.
Aaron Judge has followed the Derek Jeter (inset) path of taking a team-first attitude above all else.
N.Y. Post Charles Wenzelberg (2)

The whole team pretty much implored Judge to nevertheless take a curtain call, and Judge said, “I really didn’t want to do it, you know, especially, we’re losing and it’s a solo shot.” But he did it. And then a strange thing happened, or an expected thing when playing the Pirates, who pretty much will not allow their opponent to lose.

aaron judge chasing maris graphic

“It was a great spark for us,” Giancarlo Stanton said.

What followed against Wil Crowe — a trivia answer now for allowing No. 60 to Judge — was a double by Anthony Rizzo, a walk by Gleyber Torres and a single by Josh Donaldson to load the bases. Stanton, who has been missing baseballs but beating himself up pretty well of late, unleashed a laser-beam grand slam to left. The Yankees won 9-8. Fittingly for Judge. Because it just would have felt awkward to celebrate Judge becoming the sixth player to ever reach 60 homers amid a Yankee loss, when he measures himself by winning.

“I think that that adds to a little bit of magic at the moment,” Boone said.

Everything to know about Aaron Judge and his chase for the home run record:

The Yankees manager has long admired Judge’s ability to wall himself off from the noise. To not get caught up in his own statistics. To find a peace that comes from not chasing numbers or adoration.

But this year, it is just different. The noise is so much louder. Judge turned down a seven-year, $213.5 million Yankee extension offer in spring, gambling on himself into his walk year. There have been times, especially in the second half, when he has been a one-man offense. The Yankees probably blow all of a 15 ¹/₂-game division lead if Judge were not carrying them. In recent weeks, in particular, the focus on his home run chase has intensified. And yet Judge has been Judge, which means being caked in leadership and preparation and evading back slaps and premature victory laps.

A jubilant Aaron Judge (background) jumps on to the field after Giancarlo Stanton's game-winning grand slam in the ninth inning of the Yankees' 9-8 comeback win over the Pirates.
A jubilant Aaron Judge (background) jumps on to the field after Giancarlo Stanton’s game-winning grand slam in the ninth inning of the Yankees’ 9-8 comeback win over the Pirates.
Corey Sipkin

Boone noted that even down four runs and with seemingly the only unanswered question in the game whether Judge would homer or not, Judge took a first-pitch strike from Crowe, seeking to get on base down four runs. Judge was seeking an avenue to win, not to hit his 60th homer. He hit it anyway.

With the count full, Crowe challenged Judge with a fastball, and 430 feet later, Judge had tied Ruth. He simply has not been swallowed by the stress. As the pressure should be mounting, Judge is rising. He has gotten on base in each of the last 19 games. He has hit .471 in that time with 11 homers, and as all the counting stats have climbed, what has stayed low — nonexistent actually — is Judge making this about him, though it so obviously is.

“It [winning and focusing on being a good teammate] is his genuine focus, not his stated focus,” Boone said. “He’s about the perfect guy to manage.”

Said Judge: “I haven’t really been thinking about numbers or stats and stuff like that. I’m just trying to go out there and help my team.”

No one in the majors has helped his team more in 2022. The numbers and stats are impossible to ignore. Yet, one reason they keep growing is because Judge has a Jeterian baseball soul. He has caught Ruth and on the doorstep of Maris by thinking of his home team and not his own home runs.

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