As Judge approaches milestone, what counts more: 61 or 73?

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NEW YORK — To some, Aaron Judge‘s season has a special sheen because he appears to be Mr. Clean.

They would consider Judge the record-holder if he surpasses Roger Maris’ 61 homers, absent the steroids stain sticking to the tainted trio of Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa.

“To me, the holder of the record for home runs in a season is Roger Maris,” author George Will said. “There’s no hint of suspicion that we’re seeing better baseball than better chemistry in the case of Judge. He’s clean. He’s not doing something that forces other players to jeopardize their health.”

Bonds’ 73 and other Steroids Era peaks are viewed by critics as phantoms, totals as inflated as the biceps of those bulked up hitters.

Judge entered Monday with 55 homers through the New York Yankees’ first 141 games, leaving 21 games to go. Judge towers over everyone else, and not just because he is 6-foot-7: Kyle Schwarber is second in homers with 37 for Philadelphia.

Judge has hit 22,676 feet of home runs this year – 4.29 miles – with an average distance of 412 feet, according to MLB Statcast.

“Judge is like Secretariat in the Belmont,” broadcaster Bob Costas said, thinking back to the Triple Crown-winning 31-length victory in 1973. “He’s percentages above everyone else. It’s downplayed now – he’s hitting .300, so he’s a classic great player. The great players have power and average. Well, he’s doing that. And in the context of this season and in this era, that’s really something. And he certainly should have in any reasonable person’s mind put the most valuable argument for this year to bed.”

With his black matte Chandler model maple bat, Judge is hitting .307 with 121 RBIs – 12 more than anyone else.

Up until the 1990s, baseball’s great debate was whether whether Maris’ 1961 season should count as the record because he played more games.

Ruth’s 60 in 1927 stood as the standard for 34 years. Maris’ mark lasted 37 until Mark McGwire hit 70 in 1998, part of an apparently juiced jolt that saw Sammy Sosa hit 66. McGwire followed with 65 the next year as Sosa hit 63. Power peaked in 2001, when Barry Bonds hit a previously unfathomable 73 and Sosa 64.

“Personally, I think that those records are tainted, and therefore I’m rooting very much for Judge,” former baseball Commissioner Fay Vincent said. “I think he’s absolutely clean. I don’t think there’s any performance-enhancing drug involvement or taint with Judge. And so I think one of the reasons his performance is so illuminating and so compelling is that it’s totally clean.”

Since drug testing with penalties started in 2004, the highest total has been Giancarlo Stanton‘s 59 for Miami in 2017.

“Fans, writers, Hall of Fame voters, all those groups that matter are going to make their own judgments about how his accomplishments should be weighed against other players who may have been disclosed as using performance-enhancing drugs,” current Commissioner Rob Manfred said. “They’re going to place appropriate weight on those performances. I have found Judge’s performance to be as compelling and captivating as any as I’ve ever seen.”

Maris’ legitimacy was debated because the American League schedule increased to 162 games in 1961 following expansion. With Maris at 35 homers, then-Commissioner Ford Frick decided that July 17 that 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 Vincent voted unanimously to recognize Maris as the record-holder.

At 30, Judge has an impeccable reputation in an era during which each player is tested for performance-enhancing drugs during spring training and is subject to random tests during the season and offseason.

McGwire admitted in 2010 he used steroids while breaking Maris’ record. Bonds and Sosa maintain they never knowingly used banned substances.

“Nobody thought that when Hank Aaron hit 715 that he was a better home run hitter than Babe Ruth, but he had surpassed Ruth’s record. No one thinks that Pete Rose in his time was a better hitter than Ty Cobb, but he passed Cobb’s record – authentically,” Costas said. “People put the steroid stuff in a different category because it’s obvious, it’s a cluster of half a decade that this stuff happens. And it isn’t just the three of them. You’ve got other guys hitting 50 homers or guys hitting 45 homers who previously hit 18. Everyone understands that, at least everyone who pays attention. And so if Judge winds up hitting 65, that’s different than McGwire or Sosa hitting 65.”

Changes in the sport mean players faced different conditions. Ruth started in the dead ball era, Maris played at the dawn of expansion, Judge faces pitchers throwing harder than ever before.

“It’s a dead end, it seems to me, to keep comparing eras,” Will said. “Ruth didn’t play against African-Americans. Ruth didn’t play night games and have transcontinental travel and all the rest. Judge is a lot bigger, then pitchers are a lot bigger. … You judge people against what they do against their peers.”

Swanson, Olson go deep vs Scherzer, Braves take NL East lead

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ATLANTA — Dansby Swanson and Matt Olson homered off Max Scherzer, lifting the Atlanta Braves to a crucial 4-2 victory Saturday night over the New York Mets and a one-game lead in the NL East.

The defending World Series champions beat aces Jacob deGrom and Scherzer on consecutive nights to take their biggest lead of the season in the division. New York, which held a 10 1/2-game cushion on June 1, faces its biggest deficit of the year with four games remaining.

Atlanta will try for a three-game sweep Sunday night, with the winner earning the season-series tiebreaker between the teams. Even though both teams are headed to the postseason, that’s important because the NL East champion gets a first-round bye in the playoffs.

Swanson’s 24th homer, a go-ahead, two-run shot in the fifth inning, touched off a frenzy among the sold-out crowd at Truist Park, the ball sailing a few rows up into the seats in left-center to make it 3-2. Olson hit his 32nd homer in the sixth, a solo shot into Chop House seats in right to put Atlanta up 4-2.

Austin Riley led off the fourth with a double and scored on Olson’s single to make it 1-all.

Kyle Wright (21-5) gave up two runs and seven hits with one walk and three strikeouts in five innings as he won his eighth straight decision. The Braves have won 16 of his last 17 starts.

New York went up 2-1 in the fifth when Pete Alonso, Francisco Lindor and Jeff McNeil hit consecutive two-out singles.

The Mets led 1-0 in the first when Brandon Nimmo singled, advanced on a walk and a single and scored on Eduardo Escobar‘s groundout. Wright, who threw 30 pitches in the first, stranded two runners in scoring position to prevent further damage.

Scherzer (11-5) allowed a first-inning single to Riley and a third-inning infield single to Ronald Acuna Jr., who advanced to third on a fielding error by Lindor at shortstop but was stranded when Michael Harris II lined out to center. Scherzer patted his glove and pumped his fist as he walked off the mound.

Scherzer was charged with nine hits and four runs with no walks and four strikeouts in 5 2/3 innings as the Mets were knocked out of first place for only the third day all season.

The Braves have won five of the last six against New York to tie the season series 9-all, outscoring the Mets 37-16 over that stretch.

Atlanta’s bullpen, which posted a 1.70 ERA in September, got a perfect inning from Dylan Lee in the sixth. Jesse Chavez faced four batters in the seventh, Raisel Iglesias faced the minimum in the eighth and closer Kenley Jansen pitched a perfect ninth for his NL-leading 39th save in 46 chances.

Since the Braves were a season low-tying four games under .500 at 23-27 after play on May 31, they have gone 76-32, tying the Los Angeles Dodgers for the best record in the majors over that span. They were a season-worst 10 1/2 games behind the first-place Mets on June 1.

Wright, the only 20-game winner in baseball this season, hasn’t officially become the first Braves pitcher to lead the league in wins outright since Russ Ortiz had 21 in 2003, but the Dodgers’ Julio Urias has 17 and can’t reach 20 before the regular season ends.

Wright will become the first Braves pitcher since Hall of Famer Tom Glavine in 2000 to lead the majors in wins. Houston ace Justin Verlander also has 17.

Wright began the game 1-4 with a 6.75 ERA in six career starts and one relief appearance against the Mets.

The Braves, who got homers from Riley, Olson and Swanson off deGrom on Friday, lead the NL with 240 homers.

TRAINER’S ROOM

Mets: All-Star RF Starling Marte (right middle finger fracture) has yet to begin swinging or throwing. Manager Buck Showalter said Marte is experiencing less pain but not enough to take the next step in his recovery. Marte has been sidelined since Sept. 7.

Braves: RHP Spencer Strider still has not thrown as he gets treatment on a sore left oblique. Manager Brian Snitker said there is no timetable for the rookie’s return. Strider has been sidelined since Sept. 21.

NICE GLOVE

Harris ran back and jumped to catch Nimmo’s fly against the wall in center field for the first out of the third.

UP NEXT

Mets RHP Chris Bassitt (15-8, 3.27 ERA) will face RHP Charlie Morton (9-6, 4.29) as the teams conclude a three-game series.