The huge crowds. The excitement. The superstar in the batter’s box chasing history.
Friday night felt like 2006 all over again for Rich Hill. Except, instead of facing Barry Bonds, it was Aaron Judge. For Hill, it was a similar result: He didn’t allow a homer 16 years ago to Bonds and he didn’t give one up to Judge, either.
“It takes you back a little bit,” Hill said after the Red Sox lost to the Yankees, 5-4, in The Bronx. “The appreciation is definitely there and the excitement from the fans with what is going on. Obviously, Yankee Stadium and at the time Pac Bell [Park], two great environments to [make] history. To come in and be a part of two separate moments, it was enjoyable.”
Back in 2006, Bonds was close to moving into second place on the all-time home run list, and Hill nearly gave up a homer to him. But Juan Pierre robbed the Giants’ slugger of career home run No. 714. Judge didn’t come as close, and is stuck on 60 for the season, one shy of Roger Maris’ American League single-season record of 61.
The 42-year-old Hill struck out Judge twice and retired him on a long fly ball to left field. In his other at-bat, against reliever Zack Kelly, Judge singled to left for his first hit of the series.
On Thursday, Hill told The Post he planned to go after Judge and he held to his word. Leading off the home first inning, Hill fell behind Judge 3-1, but came back with cut fastballs on the outer part of the plate to strike him out.
Everything to know about Aaron Judge and his chase for the home run record:
In the third, Hill left a cutter over the inner half of the plate, and Judge nearly notched the Maris-tying homer.
The crowd certainly thought so, erupting in cheers upon contract. But left fielder Tommy Pham had plenty of room in front of the warning track. In their last encounter, the soft-tossing southpaw struck out Judge on four pitches, getting him to chase a 73 mph curveball in the dirt after getting him with a drop-down fastball that presented a different arm angle to Judge.
“That’s the craft and the art of pitching that I enjoy the most,” Hill said. “I enjoy it from the standpoint of understanding the history of the game and understanding where we are right now as far as the season that he’s having and the position that he’s put himself in. You want to challenge yourself, and be fortunate to be in a position to face the best, and he’s certainly proving to be the best in baseball right now.”
Judge fell to 2-for-7 lifetime against Hill, without a homer. He has really struggled against Boston’s starter from Thursday night, Michael Wacha, going hitless in 15 at-bats with 10 strikeouts.
Judge may have a better shot against the starter Saturday, Nick Pivetta. Judge has homered twice and is 5-for-11 lifetime against the righty. In fact, he hit a home run against Pivetta just 10 days ago at Fenway Park.
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