Every year it seems like players across the Major Leagues are breaking records, whether they be franchise-related like Blue Jays shortstop Bo Bichette and his 48 hits in the month of September or league-wide, like Aaron Judge and his quest for the 62 home runs.
This season, the long ball has been a very hot topic. One big milestone that was on the horizon to start the year was Cardinals slugger Albert Pujols and his quest for 700 career home runs. As the season wore on, it became Judge and his quest to break the AL home run record as the campaign started to dwindle down.
For those of you who follow baseball (or if you somehow live under a rock and haven’t heard yet), both Pujols and Judge accomplished these feats. Strangely enough, each home run had some sort of connection to the Toronto Blue Jays.
Albert Pujols collects home run #700
On September 23rd, while facing the Los Angeles Dodgers, Pujols collected home run #699 in the third inning off southpaw Andrew Heaney, putting him one away from the major milestone. In the fifth inning, the Dominican product and future Hall of Famer wasted no time in joining the record books, driving a breaking ball over the left-field wall to notch #700.
The man on the mound joining Pujols in the record books is reliever Phil Bickford. The right-hander was actually drafted by the Blue Jays back in the first round (10th overall) in 2013 as a high school senior. The two sides could not come to an agreement and the pitcher took his talents to Cal State Fullerton and the College of Southern Nevada, eventually going to the Giants at 18th overall in 2015.
While he never signed on the dotted line with the Jays, there is the obvious slight connection that he almost joined the team but decided to go to post-secondary, even though the club offered him slot money at $2.9 million. Since then, Bickford has bounced between the Giants, Milwaukee Brewers, and eventually the Dodgers, where he now works out of the bullpen. He currently owns a 4.72 ERA on the year through 60 appearances.
Blue Jays connection to Aaron Judge home run milestones
One of the biggest storylines in baseball has been Judge and his objective to break the AL home run record set by Yankees legend Roger Maris at 61. While some may argue that him breaking the mark should be the overall record given the marred past of PED users and their ability to hit the long ball, but nevertheless, what Judge is doing is quite remarkable and is putting him on track for MVP consideration this season (as well as a big payday this offseason).
The Yankees came to Toronto last week and Judge came into the three-game series at 60 knocks, one shy of tying Maris. It took two games but eventually, he cracked a shot over the left field wall and into the Blue Jays bullpen, sending southpaw Tim Mayza into the record books as well. The ball was safely returned to reliever Zach Britton and unfortunately for the few fans in the front rows, there would be no major payday.
Fast forward to last night and Judge was still hanging on to 61 home runs with just a handful of games left on the year. The Yankees are currently finishing the season in Texas against the Rangers and in the second game of a scheduled doubleheader, the towering outfielder finally did it, driving a fastball just over the left field wall to a fan who instantly became a millionaire given the ball he just caught.
On the mound for the Rangers was right-hander Jesús Tinoco. For Blue Jays fans who were around during the Blue Jays’ 2015 playoff run, Tinoco’s name might sound a bit familiar.
At the time, the Venezualan product was 20 years old and pitching in Single-A when he was included in the Troy Tulowitzki trade that also sent Jose Reyes, Jeff Hoffman, Alberto Tirado, and Miguel Castro to the Colorado Rockies (that also saw LaTroy Hawkins head to Toronto as well).
Since then, Tinoco has worked his way up the Minor League ladder and made his MLB Debut back in 2019 with the Rockies before being traded to the Marlins at the deadline. Fast forward a few years and the reliever signed a MiLB deal with the Rangers this past offseason and has spent the year split between AAA and the MLB. While he may have given up the Judge home run, he was sporting solid numbers coming into the game, authoring a 1.83 ERA through 19.2 innings of work.