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Mike Lupica: Not since Mickey Mantle have the Yankees had a main-event star like Aaron Judge

Here is the best thing about what Aaron Judge is doing with all these home runs he’s hitting, 61 years after Roger Maris hit 61 in ‘61: Judge is towering over baseball the way Babe Ruth once did, and not just because of how big he is.

Even in a world where Shohei Ohtani is doing Ruth things as a pitcher and as a slugger, it is Judge — with that perfect home-run first name, Aaron — who suddenly seems bigger than life the way The Babe did when he really seemed to invent the home run in major league baseball 100 years ago.

This is the way Judge’s home run summer is ending, with him coming into the weekend with 55, with us having the kind of New York home run summer that Maris and Mickey Mantle had in 1961, when they were the ones chasing Ruth. Mickey finally stopped at 54. Maris kept going. Now Judge, the only other player besides Ruth to twice hit more than 50 homers as a Yankee, has passed Mickey.

But he has done the same thing Maris and Mantle did 61 years ago: When they pitch to him instead of pitch around him, he has made every single trip to the plate an event, what has now become the main event even with a first-place Yankee team. Not since Mantle have the Yankees had a player who felt like as big a star as there is in the game. But they do again with No. 99, the biggest number there is, going for the biggest Yankee home run number of them all.

Judge is giving the Yankees and Yankee fans and baseball fans this kind of home-run moment, the kind we have not had around here since Maris and Mantle. There was none of this when Alex Rodriguez — another name with a bullet, like Bonds and McGwire and Sosa, because he became captain of the Biogenesis All-Stars, even though he ended up hitting 696 home runs in the big leagues — was hitting 54 homers back in 2007. Now Judge passes him at the same time he passes The Mick.

The Yankees have the same kind of slugging star that Ruth was, from the time he hit town from Boston, and the Yankees first became the Yankees. Ruth hit 54 homers his first year as a Yankee and then hit 59 the next year and finally got to 60 in 1927. And that record stood until the home run summer of Maris and Mantle 34 years later.

Yankee fans never loved anybody the way they loved Mickey Mantle, and the majority of them, and maybe all of them, wanted him to be the one to break The Babe’s record if somebody was going to do that. But now it is Judge who is the most popular Yankee, who is the face of the Yankees and who is carrying the Yankees. In ‘27, Ruth had Lou Gehrig hitting behind him, hitting 47 homers himself and knocking in 173.

But for the last couple of months, as a Yankee team that started out 64-28 has been a sub-.500 team since, Aaron Judge has been the Yankees. Without him they likely wouldn’t be in first place any longer, after once threatening to run away with things like they were Secretariat. Last Sunday in St. Petersburg the Yankees beat the Rays on a day when their lead over the Rays in the loss column could have shrunk to two games. Judge led off that game with No. 53, then scored another run later. The Yankees won, 2-1. They pitched swell that day. But once again this season, it was all about All Rise Judge.

Lately he has mattered more than ever to the ‘22 Yankees, and not just because of the home runs. It is Judge, and Judge alone, who still makes these Yankees interesting. And makes you want to watch them. The Yankees, no doubt, were really interesting early because they were winning, because they did win 44 out of their first 60 games, because they really were 64-28 at the All-Star break. But they have turned into a slog since. And a dreary slog at that. And it’s not just because of the injuries. Everybody has injuries. You know who doesn’t want to hear any woe-is-me this weekend from the Yankees about all the guys they have hurt? The Rays, that’s who.

Or the Mets.

What the Yankees have to hope for the rest of the way is that somebody else in the batting order — Giancarlo Stanton, maybe, a guy who chased 60 home runs himself once in Miami — makes it harder and harder for opposing pitchers to pitch around Judge. There is an art to that, unless he just gets waved to first on an intentional pass, because pitching around someone as dangerous as Judge is can actually put tremendous pressure on the pitcher.

“People think it’s easy, working around somebody who’s having the kind of season [Judge] is having,” Buck Showalter says. “It’s not.”

We want them to pitch to him. We want to see him keep swinging for the fences. Everybody does. We want to see him get to 60, and then maybe 61. Or more. Aaron Judge hasn’t brought the home run back to the Yankees and to the Stadium and to New York. It just feels that way.

TIAFOE A GREAT AMERICAN STORY, A BRAVES NEW WORLD FOR METS & JETS ARE MORE MISERABLE THAN KNICKS …

Sixty-five years after Althea Gibson won our national championship in tennis, and 54 years after Arthur Ashe did the same, we got the kind of run we got this week from Frances Tiafoe.

This isn’t just a great American tennis story.

It is a great American story, period.

And a hymn to the immigrant story, as well, in this time in America when immigrants are demonized the way they are.

Frances’ parents separately left a war-torn Sierre Leone to find a better life here.

And they did find it.

The American dream became their dream.

And at the same U.S. Open in which the first week was all about Serena Williams, who came out of Compton, Calif., along with her sister to become a legend of her game, Tiafoe beat Rafa Nadal and made the second week about him.

And got cheered in the second week the way Serena was until she lost to Ajla Tomljanovic.

He was a Maryland-born kid who got cheered at the Open the way Jimmy Connors was, when he swung his way into the second week in ‘91.

Serena is about to turn 41.

The two young guys who were kings of New York on Friday night, Alcaraz and Tiafoe, have a combined age of 43.

This is only the beginning for both of them, especially the 19-year-old from Spain who will be a star for the next 10 years or more, and more a streak of light running around a tennis court than anybody you have ever seen in your life.

Maybe you think Novak Djokovic could have beaten Alcaraz on Friday night.

I don’t.

The Amazin’ thing, if you really think about it, is that the Braves didn’t catch the Mets before this week.

They’re that good.

Maybe better than everybody in the end.

Again.

We are past the point where every analysis of Daniel Jones’ prospects have to include what a hard worker he is.

And what a good guy.

We get it, OK?

We get it.

Everybody likes him.

Now he needs to put some points on the board, starting Sunday, or he’s going to lose his job.

And go somewhere and be a backup who everybody likes, and outworks everybody in the building.

You know who the Mets have to make sure they keep around?

Chris Bassitt.

And you bet the Mets need to be overly cautious with Max Scherzer, because if he’s not healthy in October it’s not going to matter whether they finish ahead of the Braves or not.

People aren’t yet processing how the pitch clock is going to change major league baseball.

My friend Barry Stanton points out that even with all those star quarterbacks in the AFC West, one of them is still going to finish last.

Somebody needs to tell the people at the USTA that if a player nearly plays until 3 in the morning twice in the same Open the way Carlos Alcaraz did, then their schedule is stupid.

Here’s a question:

When do they think the Alcaraz-Sinner match would have ended if the women’s match before it between Iga Swiatek and Jessica Pegula had gone three sets instead of two — 5 in the morning?

Either start the night program earlier, or just play one match, just because there is no law passed that the people buying tickets get a doubleheader.

You know what would be the best thing for men’s tennis, by the way?

Eliminating best 3-of-5 matches forever.

If I’m Lamar Jackson, I want more money than the Browns gave Deshaun Watson, too.

Coming into the weekend, Giancarlo Stanton had played 91 games for the Yankees.

Out of 138.

You do the math on what he’s making per game, it makes my head hurt.

Stanton has now missed 244 games in the five seasons he’s been in pinstripes.

That includes the 27 he missed in a 60-game season in 2020.

I sure hope Steve Bannon likes his cellmate.

One more thing about Bannon:

If he does end up in a prison jumpsuit, it will at least improve his wardrobe.

The most tortured souls we have in local sports are Jets fans.

Knick fans think they win — or lose — because the Jets did get those two AFC championship games under Rex in this century.

But for sheer misery, I still think Jets fans have them beat.

So at least they’re winning something, right?

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