Yankees: Aaron Judge begged to play center, and it paid off

yankees, aaron judge

During last night’s game between the New York Yankees and the Los Angeles Angels in Yankee Stadium, the visiting team was this close to getting a quick 1-0 lead over the hosts. Shohei Ohtani, the second batter of the night, hit a long, high drive to center field, a position Aaron Judge was covering.

Everybody thought it was a long ball that would put the Angels ahead. “I turned and said, “That’s a homer,’” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said.

But Judge tracked it down and leaped over the wall to get the important out. That play set the tone for the Yankees’ 9-1 victory: who knows what kind of impact that homer would have had in the game, or in Jordan Montgomery’s confidence.

Instead, Judge grabbed it and Monty threw seven solid innings of just one run allowed to lift the Yankees.

“It’s a complete momentum swing,” Yankees designated hitter Matt Carpenter said, per NJ Advance Media. “When you can do something like that, it just changes the game. Being in the other dugout, it’s a gut punch when you take a swing like that and you’re looking to score some runs and a guy makes a play like that. It can take the wind out of your sails.”

The most important play of the game for the Yankees

After the Angels went down 1-2-3 in that first inning, the Yankees scored four runs in the bottom of that frame to set the tone of the evening.

“Ohtani hit it to the moon I feel like and I was able to get to it,” Judge said. “I feel like the tougher play was the first pitch of the game, Joey Gallo is running down the (right-field) line in that tricky little corner and made a play. I was just trying to do my job.”

Judge could be required to play a lot of center field innings with the Yankees’ starter there, Aaron Hicks, struggling. Hicks is hitting .200/.326/.233 and has been unable to get going.

Having Judge play center more often could result in slightly increased injury risk, but it may be their only choice. The soon-to-be free agent is having the season of his life, slashing .303/.371/.657 with 18 long balls. 

Judge was able to track the ball and time his jump because it was so high. But he looked like a natural there.

“I liked how Aaron moved to it,” Boone said. “He got himself in a real easy position. There was no rush. There was no panic. There was just, ‘Get myself there under control.’ And obviously because (Ohtani) hit it so high, (Judge) had time to kind of slow things down a little bit and get himself in a good position to make that play.”