Junk shuts down Royals, Angels cruise 4-0 to take series

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Janson Junk pitched five-plus innings of four-hit ball for the Angels, earning his first major league win and watching the Los Angeles bullpen shut down the Kansas City Royals the rest of the way in a 4-0 victory.

Shohei Ohtani reached base three times and drove in a run, pacing a scuffling Angels offense that managed to capitalize on the Royals’ shoddy fielding and get their first series win since June 27-29 against the White Sox.

Summoned from Triple-A Salt Lake to make the start, the 26-year-old Junk (1-0) allowed four hits and a walk while striking out eight before turning over a 2-0 lead to his bullpen, which did not allow a run for the second consecutive day.

Brad Keller (5-11) allowed three runs on six hits and three walks in six innings for Kansas City. He retired the first nine batters he faced and didn’t allow a hit until the fifth, when Kurt Suzuki led off with a double to left field that Andrew Benintendi didn’t field cleanly enough to hold Suzuki to one bag.

One out later, Phil Gosselin drove a pitch to right that MJ Melendez – a catcher by trade who was making his eighth career start in the outfield – couldn’t snare while crashing into the wall. Gosselin cruised into third with a run-scoring triple while Melendez, whose face smacked the metal fencing, needed a moment to recover before staying in the game.

Brandon Marsh proceeded to drive in Gosselin for a 2-0 lead.

Gosselin had a chance to do more damage in the sixth, when Jared Walsh and Suzuki hit one-out singles and Magneuris Sierra walked to load the bases. Instead, Gosselin grounded to shortstop for an inning-ending double play.

It didn’t matter. The Royals never came close to solving Junk or the Los Angeles bullpen all afternoon.

TROUT’S PROGNOSIS

Angels OF Mike Trout will go at least another week without baseball activity because of his ailing back, trainer Mike Frostad said, and there’s a chance the three-time AL MVP could need to manage it the rest of his career. Trout left a game against Houston on July 12 with what was called back spasms, then went on the injured list a week later with rib case inflammation. He had a cortisone injection last week for what has since been determined to be a rare spinal dysfunction.

ROSTER MOVES

Angels: RHP Austin Warren was optioned to Salt Lake to make room for Junk on the roster.

Royals: LHP Angel Zerpa went on the IL after hurting his right knee while fielding a grounder down the first-base line in his start Tuesday night. RHP Jackson Kowar was recalled from Triple-A Omaha to replace him.

TRAINER’S ROOM

Angels: OF Jo Adell got the day off after getting hit in the arm by a pitch Tuesday night.

Royals: SS Bobby Witt Jr. (hamstring) missed his third straight game, though manager Mike Matheny said he’s still hopeful of avoiding an IL trip. … 1B Vinnie Pasquantino was out of the lineup with right thumb discomfort.

UP NEXT

Angels: Head home for a four-game series against Texas with RHP Shohei Ohtani (9-5, 2.80 ERA) starting Thursday night’s opener.

Royals: Embark on a seven-game trip with RHP Brady Singer (4-3, 3.82) on the mound for the first of four games against the Yankees on Thursday night.

Yankees star Judge hits 61st home run, ties Maris’ AL record

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TORONTO — Aaron Judge tied Roger Maris’ American League record of 61 home runs in a season, hitting a tiebreaking, two-run drive for the New York Yankees in the seventh inning against the Toronto Blue Jays on Wednesday night.

The 30-year-old slugger drove a 94.5 mph belt-high sinker with a full-count from left-hander Tim Mayza over the left-field fence at Rogers Centre. The 117.4 mph drive took just 3.8 seconds to land 394 feet from the plate, and it put the Yankees ahead 5-3.

Judge watched the ball clank off the front of the stands, just below two fans who reached over a railing and tried for a catch. He pumped an arm just before reaching first and exchanged a slap with coach Travis Chapman.

The ball dropped into Toronto’s bullpen and was picked up by Blue Jays bullpen coach Matt Buschmann, who turned it over to the Yankees.

Judge’s mother and Roger Maris Jr. rose and hugged from front-row seats. He appeared to point toward them after rounding second base, then was congratulated by the entire Yankees team, who gave him hugs after he crossed the plate.

Judge moved past the 60 home runs Babe Ruth hit in 1927, which had stood as the major league mark until Maris broke it in 1961. All three stars reached those huge numbers playing for the Yankees.

Barry Bonds holds the big league record of 73 for the San Francisco Giants in 2001.

Judge had gone seven games without a home run – his longest drought this season was nine in mid-August. This was the Yankees’ 155th game of the season, leaving them seven more in the regular season.

The home run came in the fourth plate appearance of the night for Judge, ending a streak of 34 plate appearances without a home run.

Judge is hitting .313 with 130 RBIs, also the top totals in the AL. He has a chance to become the first AL Triple Crown winner since Detroit’s Miguel Cabrera in 2012.

Maris hit No. 61 for the Yankees on Oct. 1, 1961, against Boston Red Sox pitcher Tracy Stallard.

Maris’ mark has been exceeded six times, but all have been tainted by the stench of steroids. Mark McGwire hit 70 home runs for the St. Louis Cardinals in 1998 and 65 the following year, and Bonds topped him. Sammy Sosa had 66, 65 and 63 during a four-season span starting in 1998.

McGwire admitted using banned steroids, while Bonds and Sosa denied knowingly using performing-enhancing drugs. Major League Baseball started testing with penalties for PEDs in 2004, and some fans – perhaps many – until now have considered Maris the holder of the “clean” record.

Among the tallest batters in major league history, the 6-foot-7 Judge burst on the scene on Aug. 13, 2016, homering off the railing above Yankee Stadium’s center-field sports bar and into the netting above Monument Park. He followed Tyler Austin to the plate and they become the first teammates to homer in their first major league at-bats in the same game.

Judge hit 52 homers with 114 RBIs the following year and was a unanimous winner of the AL Rookie of the Year award. Injuries limited him during the following three seasons, and he rebounded to hit 39 homers with 98 RBIs in 2021.

As he approached his last season before free agent eligibility, Judge on opening day turned down the Yankees’ offer of an eight-year contract worth from $230.5 million to $234.5 million. The proposal included an average of $30.5 million annually from 2023-29, with his salary this year to be either the $17 million offered by the team in arbitration or the $21 million requested by the player.

An agreement was reached in June on a $19 million, one-year deal, and Judge heads into this offseason likely to get a contract from the Yankees or another team for $300 million or more, perhaps topping $400 million.

Judge hit six homers in April, 12 in May and 11 in June. He earned his fourth All-Star selection and entered the break with 33 homers. He had 13 homers in July and dropped to nine in August, when injuries left him less protected in the batting order and pitchers walked him 25 times.

He became just the fifth player to hold a share of the AL season record. Nap Lajoie hit 14 in the AL’s first season as a major league in 1901, and Philadelphia Athletics teammate Socks Seabold had 16 the next year, a mark that stood until Babe Ruth hit 29 in 1919. Ruth set the record four times in all, with 54 in 1920, 59 in 1921 and 60 in 1927, a mark that stood until Maris’ 61 in 1961.

Maris was at 35 in July 1961 during the first season each team’s schedule increased from 154 games to 162, and baseball Commissioner Ford Frick ruled if anyone topped Ruth in more than 154 games “there would have to be some distinctive mark in the record books to show that Babe Ruth’s record was set under a 154-game schedule.”

That “distinctive mark” became known as an “asterisk” and it remained until Sept. 4, 1991, when a committee on statistical accuracy chaired by Commissioner Fay Vincent voted unanimously to recognize Maris as the record holder.