MINNEAPOLIS — An already historic season by New York Yankees slugger Aaron Judge could well be capped with baseball's first Triple Crown in 10 years.
Minnesota's Luis Arraez is standing in his way.
After going two for five for the Twins on Thursday in their loss to the Chicago White Sox, Arraez pulled ahead of Judge by two points — when rounding up — in the AL batting race. The Yankees were off.
With one week to go in the regular season, Arraez's average is .3147, Judge is at .3134 and Boston's Xander Bogaerts is third at .3088. The Yankees have seven games left, with six each for the Twins and Red Sox.
With 61 home runs — which matched the much-watched AL record on Wednesday — and 130 RBIs, Judge has those two categories locked up.
The batting average will be harder to get, thanks to Arraez. Miguel Cabrera last accomplished the Triple Crown feat for Detroit in 2012. Before that, Boston's Carl Yastrzemski was the previous to do it in 1967.
“No pressure. But I just try to hit the ball, try to get the barrel there,” Arraez, a fourth-year infielder, said on Wednesday. “Baseball is hard, but I just need to trust myself and go out there and play hard.”
With real-time statistics staring at him from the giant scoreboard at Target Field or on the iPad when he watches video of his at-bats, Arraez can't help but keep track of the competition. But he's tried his best not to overthink this.
“I just need to enjoy the game and then finish strong," said Arraez, who has played mostly first base, second base and designated hitter and was picked for his first All-Star game this year.
The Twins, who fell out of playoff contention with a rough start to the month, have relished the opportunity to watch one of their most popular players work his craft down the stretch.
“I think he’s gotten to a point of calm and he’s gotten to a point where he’s just worried about going out there and trying to hit some line drives,” manager Rocco Baldelli said.
Arraez was hitting as high as .362 on June 21, .342 on July 23 and .336 on Aug. 16. His powerfully compact and consistent swing and the ability and willingness to spray the ball all over the field have evoked among Twins fans and the organization memories of Rod Carew.
Carew won seven batting titles for the Twins, who also had Tony Oliva (three), Joe Mauer (three) and Kirby Puckett (one) lead the AL in average.
“I think he’s going to have many opportunities in his career as the years go on where he’s kind of fighting it out for this great distinction,” Baldelli said.
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