The series where Aaron Judge could match or even break Roger Maris’ record 61 home runs is about to start. I’m still not even sure that has sunk in, now or at any point during his otherworldly campaign.
Judge is compiling a season the likes of which we may not see again for a generation. To be chasing 61, shy of leading the Triple Crown race by one point of batting average, all in a walk year when he turned down a nine-figure contract to bet on himself is a script not even the most ambitious playwright could devise. On perhaps the eve of history, it’s a fine time to look back on memories of other milestone achievements from recent Yankees.
Alex Rodriguez: 500 home runs, 8/4/2007
I didn’t even get to watch the first of the milestones baked into my memory. I recall my family and I were driving — couldn’t tell you where — and listening to the game back when they were still broadcast on WCBS 880. What I particularly remember about the moment was John Sterling’s call. When A-Rod made contact, Sterling said something to the effect of a flyball to left, but he left us in suspense saying “It is gonna be...” followed by what felt like a 15-second pause before finally confirming that the ball left the yard, making A-Rod the youngest player to reach the 500 home run club.
Alex Rodriguez: 600 home runs, 8/4/2010
This was the first major milestone at the new stadium, though I’ll admit my feelings toward A-Rod had changed quite a bit since the 500 home run moment. I was still a young and malleable Yankee fan and fell prey to the old hat takes of him as greedy for opting out to get a bigger deal and the perception of him as a choker in the postseason. In short, I rather disliked the guy just a year after he helped deliver the Yankees’ only title since 2000. I thought it was cool that another Yankee record was in the books, on the third anniversary of hitting No. 500 no less, but I felt a bit dirty cheering for A-Rod.
Derek Jeter: 3,000 hits, 7/9/2011
This game, on the other hand, will remain etched in my memory for the rest of my life. What made hit number 3,000 for the captain particularly memorable was how un-Jeterlike it was — a long home run into the bleachers to the pull side. I remember the fans around the guy who corralled the ball going wild, Michael Kay’s memorable call — “3,000. History, with an exclamation point!” — and of course Jeter doing typical clutch Jeter things, going 5-for-5 including the game-winning RBI single in the eighth.
Mariano Rivera: 602 saves, 9/19/2011
Mariano Rivera was easily my favorite Yankee growing up. Most nights, I would go to bed happy listening to the little black transistor radio on my nightstand as Sterling called Rivera closing out the game. I remember Mo hit 600 saves and shortly after tied Trevor Hoffman’s record of 601, but feeling worried because there were less than three weeks left in the regular season to hit 602. I got home from school just in time for the final innings, and remember jumping off the couch and shaking my fists in elation when Mo poured over that patented backdoor cutter for strike three looking to stand alone as the all-time saves leader.
Ichiro: 4,000 hits, 8/21/2013
I was always a huge Ichiro fan and was ecstatic when he joined the Yankees. As a half-Asian and a bit (okay, a lot) of an oddball, I admired the way he used his alien skillset of extreme speed and bat to ball prowess to do things possible of no other player in MLB history. This hit was no different, as he slapped a groundball single to left as the rest of his body was already halfway out of the batter’s box. I remember it was during move-in weekend of my freshman year of college, and I had put the game on in the common room, causing all of the non-sportsball fans to scatter. I thought it was classy that they stopped the game for his teammates to congratulate him. I remember the broad smile across Hiroki Kuroda’s face as he climbed over the fence, and the acknowledgement from Ichiro toward Toronto second baseman Munenori Kawasaki.
Alex Rodriguez: 2,000 RBI, 6/13/2015
Rodriguez became the fourth player to reach the 2,000 RBI club, and in typical A-Rod fashion, he did it by going yard. I remember I was pooped from a long day of teaching swim lessons and lifeguarding and all I wanted was to zonk out watching the game. The Yankees went down to the Orioles early, and as is the case when you’re tired and in a grouchy mood, I had a short fuse for annoyances and almost turned the game off. It was at that point that it occurred to me that A-Rod was one shy of 2,000, so I stuck it out to watch him achieve the feat with a prototypically effortless one-handed finish swing sending the ball out oppo. Of course, the game went severely down hill from that point forward, with the Yankees losing 9-4, but at least I can say I witnessed history.
Alex Rodriguez: 3,000 hits, 6/19/15
I unfortunately did not get to witness A-Rod hit number 3,000 as I was working as a lifeguard at the local pool back home for summer break. However, I recall my mom excitedly telling me when I got home that I had to watch the highlights of the game, and sure enough, with his classic flair for the dramatic, A-Rod left the park in the first off Justin Verlander.
CC Sabathia: 3,000 strikeouts, 4/30/2019
That brings us to our last memory, and truth be told, one of my favorites of recent Yankees history. Those first three years for Sabathia in pinstripes represent some of the most dominant pitching I’ve ever seen, and was one of early influences on why I’ve found pitching much more fascinating than hitting. I admired Sabathia a ton for reinventing himself after some pretty miserable years, allowing him to be an effective major league starter far longer than I though he would.
I remember thinking to myself that he seemed to be on a one-track mission that April night in Arizona when he struck out the first two batters of the second inning. It was like he could smell the finish line and was going all out to strike every batter out until the deed was done. I thought it was neat to see Gary Sánchez pump his fist when he caught strike three to John Ryan Murphy, I was so happy that Ken Singleton got the call of the historic moment (miss you Kenny), and I was struck by Sabathia walking back to the dugout, game face still on like he was out for more before a smile cracked the steely veneer as his teammate came out to congratulate him.