It’s said records are made to be broken. But they’re not. Not all of them.
Rickey Henderson’s stolen base records, for example, are made to be admired as they zoom off into the distance, never to be touched. Cy Young’s wins record was made to be a relic, as it turns out, an anachronism, a scratchy transmission through the wires from baseball’s past.
It’s more: Records are made to be chased, and broken records are made to be fun.
That’s part of what Aaron Judge gave us — Yankees fans, baseball fans, grudging admirers of anyone wearing pinstripes, sports nuts, those who appreciate greatness in whatever arena it is expressed — on Wednesday night, when he launched his 61st home run of the season, tying Roger Maris’s 61-year-old American League record.
He reminded us, after a slightly nervy week-plus since he struck No. 60, after a generation in which the pursuit of home run records became associated with chemical compounds and “cheating” and dissolved into debating which numbers (755, 61) were still hallowed, excellent, very cool and which higher numbers (762, 73, 70) were bogus, evil, let’s-forget-they-happened, that these achievements are supposed to be joyful for those who get to watch them. They’re to be greeted with shouts and smiles, in living rooms and barrooms and bleacher seats. They’re to be toasted, to be hugged over. They’re to be fondly recalled for years to come.
Roger Maris Jr. helped give us that, too. If a man whose father’s legacy, whose very name, is fortified by a singular baseball feat can spend more than a week roaming the continent in happy anticipation of that feat becoming not so singular, then stand and cheer when Judge’s home run off the Blue Jays’ Tim Mayza finally sizzled over the left-field fence, we all could — should — be happy.
The resentment that sometimes attends to a record-breaker, as it did when Maris eclipsed Babe Ruth, was nowhere in sight. The vibes were extremely good.
Now, Judge hasn’t broken the record just yet. He has up to seven games remaining to hit No. 62 and claim sole possession of the AL record: three against the Orioles at the Stadium starting Friday, followed by four on the road against the Rangers. It will be fun to watch him try. It will be more fun to see him actually do it.
Then, eventually, it will be on to the next record-setting night, the next record chase. You know, the Knicks closing in on 74 wins. Kyrie Irving going off one night for 101 points. Zach Wilson throwing 56 touchdown passes. Or, fine, something more plausible, like Jacob deGrom racking up 384 strikeouts. Whatever it is, it ought to be just as much fun as Judge going from 0 to 61.
— Jonathan Lehman
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Two pitchers, one job
The top three are set. What lies after them, however, remains as perhaps the Mets’ biggest postseason question.
Jacob deGrom, Max Scherzer and Chris Bassitt appear set to be the team’s 1-2-3 starters in the postseason. Taijuan Walker and Carlos Carrasco are currently battling to claim the fourth spot.
No, the fourth starter might not determine the Mets’ October fate, and teams at times don’t even use a fourth starter, instead pushing pitchers on short rest and to higher pitch counts. But deGrom and Scherzer make it a greater concern for the Mets.
The co-aces likely provide the best 1-2 punch in the sport in the playoffs. But they’re also not in position to be pushed to the limit.
Just last postseason, Scherzer was scratched — or rather, told the Dodgers he could not pitch — for his scheduled start in Game 6 of the NLCS against the Braves. That followed ace-like outings in the wild-card game and Game 3 of the NLDS plus an inning of relief in Game 5 to close out that series. He then struggled in Game 2 of the NLCS, however, and was subsequently scratched for Game 6.
A year older at 38, and coming off two IL stints due to oblique injuries, Scherzer likely can’t be pushed much beyond his regular-season limits. After his last start, he said he was still “building back up” to a normal workload.
In 10 starts since returning from a year-plus absence due to right arm injuries, deGrom’s high pitch count is 101, and it was the only time he’s surpassed 100 pitches. He notably followed that up with his worst outing of the season by far, surrendering five earned runs in four innings to the lowly A’s.
In the 2015 playoffs, deGrom surpassed 100 pitches three times, including reaching 121 in his postseason debut. Will he be able to muster a similar workload? Will the Mets even want to try it? The current signs point to no.
So, that brings us back to Walker and Carrasco and the importance of the Mets’ fourth starter.
And if they’re auditioning for the job, they’re both making solid cases for the other guy.
Carrasco had been trending upward for most of the second half and toward claiming the job, but two underwhelming performances in a row have brought new concerns. He gave up three earned runs and was unable to make it past the fourth inning against the Brewers, and on Tuesday night, surrendered four earned runs in just three innings in a 6-4 loss to the Marlins, temporarily dropping the Mets out of sole possession of first place in the NL East.
Carrasco’s overall numbers paint a promising picture — a 3.95 ERA, including 3.31 in the second half — but his underlying numbers deliver particular worries for the playoffs.
Carrasco struggles early in games, especially in the first inning, where he owns a 5.14 ERA, and tends to work himself into the outing. That’s not nearly as tenable in October, when runs are at a premium and falling behind early becomes more punitive as bullpen quality increases. Further, Carrasco has feasted on the league’s dregs, while the types of teams he’ll face in the playoffs have haunted him: He owns a 2.45 ERA against sub-.500 teams and a 6.71 ERA against teams over .500.
Walker has scuffled through a rough second half after an excellent first half for the second straight year, and the swoon continued Wednesday night as he allowed three runs in five-plus innings (with eight strikeouts) in the Mets’ eventual, Eduardo Escobar-rescued 5-4 win over the Marlins.
Walker’s second-half ERA is at 5.14 after posting a 2.55 ERA prior to the All-Star break. Like Carrasco, Walker owns uneven splits by quality of opponent, with a 2.29 ERA (going into Wednesday’s start) against sub-.500 teams and 5.10 ERA against teams over .500.
Most importantly, the Mets likely only need Walker or Carrasco to pitch three or four innings before being comfortable going to the bullpen, preferably avoiding them facing a lineup for a third time through the order. In that area, Walker has an edge, owning a 3.27 ERA in innings 1-3, compared to Carrasco’s 3.62 and particular struggles in the first inning.
The Post’s Jon Heyman advocated for Walker to get the nod while predicting it would go to Carrasco.
But neither Carrasco nor Walker has made a strong case for the job. That makes the Mets’ pivotal decision even more difficult.
Reasons not to worry about the World Cup
Yes, the U.S. men’s national soccer team did not look great in their final tuneups before the World Cup in November.
No, it does not mean or represent anything.
The USMNT recently lost 2-0 to uninspiring Japan and then drew Saudi Arabia, 0-0, in their final friendly matches before the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. Failing to score in both, the performances prompted renewed skepticism and concern about the team’s outlook.
Those concerns ignore this group’s entire body of work.
Since disastrously failing to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, the USMNT has largely shifted away from an older group of players who primarily played in MLS and embraced a newfound core of the country’s young, more exciting talent who play abroad for some of Europe’s most elite teams and make up the 2022 World Cup team. And the results are showing.
Last summer, in their first major tournaments together as a new group, the American kids dominated the CONCACAF Nations League, toppling rival Mexico in the final. Later in the summer, they tore through the CONCACAF Gold Cup and again beat Mexico.
This past fall and winter, despite one or two hiccups, the USMNT generally cruised in World Cup qualifying, restoring the nation to its rightful place after the embarrassment of 2018.
And when not on national team duty, the USMNT’s biggest stars have thrived on the biggest stages.
The team is obviously headlined by wonderboy Christian Pulisic, but the rest of the team’s most important players have played integral roles on some of the best teams in the world. Midfielder Weston McKennie, just 24, is a regular fixture in iconic Italian team Juventus’ starting 11. He’s also shown a hunger for the biggest moments, recently scoring in the Champions League, the sport’s biggest competition outside the World Cup.
Elsewhere, 19-year-old forward Gio Reyna has emerged at Borussia Dortmund, a top German team that was responsible for helping develop Pulisic before his move to Chelsea. In two Champions Leagues games this year, the phenom already has two assists.
In England’s Premier League, 21-year-old forward Brenden Aaronson has broken out as one of the most exciting and important players on Leeds United. So much so, the Medford, N.J., native has Leeds fans regularly belting out a chant in his honor, a parody of Estelle’s hit song “American Boy.” He has a goal and assist in six Premier League games this season.
The list keeps going. Defender Sergiño Dest, 21, plays for Italian side A.C. Milan, and before that had already started 40 games over two years with Spanish giant Barcelona. Tyler Adams, a 23-year-old midfielder from Wappingers Falls, N.Y., has started all six games with Aaronson at Leeds, and before that enjoyed an extremely successful four-year spell with RB Leipzig in Germany.
Heading into the World Cup, the USMNT is filled with scintillating young talent playing at the highest levels all across Europe, and are just one year removed from dominating their first important regional tournaments as a nucleus.
So no, two games that don’t count, well, don’t mean anything.
How Shakur can become a superstar
Shakur Stevenson is no longer the unified junior lightweight champion.
But now the fun starts.
The blossoming Newark native, before dominating Robson Conceicao via unanimous decision last week, relinquished his WBC and WBO 130-pound titles after failing to make weight. The fight still went on, though Stevenson was not allowed to defend his belts.
With the weight-cutting difficulties, Stevenson announced he’s now making his much-anticipated move up to lightweight.
At just 25, Stevenson is already on most pound-for-pound lists thanks to a 19-0 record and near-flawless résumé, humbling Jamel Herring and Oscar Valdez in title fights that were expected to at least be close. Widely regarded as boxing’s best young star, the next step in his ascent is to take “young” out of that equation.
And the 135-pound division offers the perfect opponents to do that.
After defeating Conceicao, Stevenson expressed his intent to challenge the lightweight division’s current undisputed champion, Devin Haney, setting a path toward one of the sport’s biggest potential fights. The 23-year-old Haney, who first would have to defeat George Kambosos in a rematch, already stands at 28-0 and is perhaps the only fighter to outpace Stevenson so early in their careers.
The two fighters share similar styles, using rare elusiveness and devastating counter-punches to cruise past opponents. Each has proven he’s among the sport’s biggest draws — Stevenson attracted average viewerships of 1.097 million, 1.353 million and 1.264 million during his past three fights, respectively, and Haney’s bout with Kambosos attracted an average of 1,322,000 viewers, per BoxingScene.
Perhaps most importantly, both have shown they’re at their best on the biggest stages, and have no interest in wasting any time before taking on the greatest challenges and climbing the rungs of boxing’s hierarchy.
And nobody provides the other a better opportunity, and bigger stage, to continue that climb.
“I think the better the competition, the better I am,” Stevenson recently told The Post. “I don’t think I’m gonna get any better from fighting lower-level opposition. … I just feel like with the types of guys who are also good fighters, it brings the best out of me. The best comes out of me when I’m up against that level of competition. That’s when you talk about my last two fights, it’s because the competition raised on me. And once it raised on me, I stepped up tremendously to the task.”
In addition to Haney, former champion Vasiliy Lomachenko offers a similar opportunity. Stevenson, Haney and Lomachenko are all signed to Top Rank, making potential matchups straightforward to set up. Ryan Garcia and Gervonta Davis and their sizable fan bases also provide enthralling options at 135 or 140 pounds.
Regardless, Stevenson has taken the next step in his path to superstardom and boxing superiority. His feats at junior lightweight — and featherweight before that — set the foundation. The lightweight division now sets the stage for his full bloom.
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