NEW YORK -- As the frigid wind whipped at the sleeves of Aaron Judge's uniform in the eighth inning on Monday evening, the Yankees' right fielder locked eyes with center fielder Brett Gardner across their assigned patches of real estate. Judge gestured, indicating that something special was about to happen.
Moments later, the crack of an Adam Ottavino slider meeting Niko Goodrum's bat echoed throughout Yankee Stadium's decks. Judge reacted instantly, charging to his right and diving to secure the sinking liner, a stellar snare that helped to preserve the Yankees' 3-1 victory over the Tigers.
"I had to do my job," Judge said. "I love making plays on defense for my pitcher. Anytime he's out there working, I want to give 110 percent just like he is. Anytime you make a play like that and try to save some runs and make something happen, it's a pretty good feeling."
His chest skidding across the moist turf, Judge's pinstripe-staining grab came as the Yankees searched for something positive to bring home. Giancarlo Stanton and Miguel Andujar both joined the list of the team's walking wounded earlier in the day, with Andujar potentially lost for the season due to a torn right shoulder labrum.
Coming off an underwhelming season-opening weekend in which the Yankees dropped two of three games to the lowly Orioles, a victory over Detroit represented a desperately needed salve.
As the count reached 2-1 on Goodrum, Detroit's left-handed-hitting first baseman, Judge glanced toward center field. Gardner confirmed Judge's account of the events.
"Right before that pitch, he kind of gestured toward me that he was about to make a play," Gardner said. "That made it more special. I couldn't believe what happened."
Ottavino snapped off an 86 mph slider that Goodrum lashed toward the gap. According to Statcast, Judge needed to cover 40 feet in 3.1 seconds to make the four-star grab, which carried a 35 percent catch probability.
"It was a great play, and a tough one for an outfielder because it can be a little dangerous," Yankees manager Aaron Boone said. "To get underneath that ball, that's one of those difficult straight-on plays for an outfielder, especially coming in hot like that."
Some Yankees fans surely remember a similar play in 2006 that ended Hideki Matsui's consecutive games played streak, remarkably prompting Matsui to apologize to his teammates for being injured. Judge said he had no physical concerns following the play. But how did he know the ball was coming to him?
"Just watching swings throughout the game, how he was swinging it, especially with [Ottavino] up," Judge said. "He's got good off-speed pitches, so he might get around one and hook one. I just let Gardy know, 'Heads up here.'"
Ottavino retired the next two batters on flyouts, and Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire said Judge's play was the evening's turning point.
"No doubt about it; [Goodrum] hit the ball on the button," Gardenhire said. "We had a couple of guys on. That was our big opportunity offensively and [Judge] made a great play. He dives for that and it gets by him, we have a tied ballgame. That was the play of the game."
Gardner said that because most of the outside attention is focused on how hard and far Judge can crush a baseball, the work that he puts in on the defensive side is frequently overlooked. Gardner has a Gold Glove Award in his trophy case , and said that he believes Judge could win one of his own before his last innings are played.
"I hope so," Gardner said. "Definitely, to get recognized in that way for what he does on that side of the ball, I think he's that good out there. Not just the ground that he can cover and the jumps that he gets, but the throws and the arm that he has. He shuts down the running game and keeps guys from taking the extra base. He's as good as it gets."