Judge brings back Ohtani's HR on a bobble, then bops one of his own!

April 20th, 2023

NEW YORK -- There was warm applause heard as posed for photographs behind home plate early on Wednesday evening, clutching his Silver Slugger Award from last year, a prized token from an unforgettable season. The reigning American League Most Valuable Player soon used that stage to remind the world he can change the game with his glove, too.

Judge enjoyed perhaps the finest single frame of his career, robbing of a first-inning home run with a leaping grab against the center-field wall, then blasting a two-run homer of his own. That held as the Yankees’ output until lifted a walk-off sacrifice fly in a 3-2, 10-inning victory over the Angels at Yankee Stadium.

“You’ve got to be an all-around athlete, an all-around player,” Judge said. “Especially when the pitcher is out there grinding, working his butt off every single pitch, I’ve got to come up and make a play for him. I never wanted to be a home run hitter, or just a hitter. I wanted to be an all-around good athlete, and that’s what we focus on.”

Ohtani grabbed Round 1 of a showdown between the two most recent AL MVPs on Tuesday, belting a homer in the Halos’ road win. Judge responded as he paced toward the wall in the first, eyes fixed upon Ohtani’s drive off rookie right-hander .

“I thought it was going to be a homer,” Brito said through an interpreter. “I saw Judge near the wall and it felt like he was timing it. I thought, in that moment, maybe he had a chance.”

Judge’s spikes transitioned from the turf to the crunching warning-track gravel, and he sensed the ball had hang time; 6.4 seconds, long enough to coolly gauge a leap. He needed every inch of his 6-foot-7 frame to reach for it, intending to swat the ball off its collision course with the Monument Park netting and return it to the field of play.

“First of all,” said the Angels’ , “I don’t know how that ball didn’t go out.”

Instead, it struck Judge’s glove and popped out, secured in Judge’s bare hand. Manager Aaron Boone said his star was “playing a little volleyball,” and Judge flashed a grin of relief. The transition was imperceptible in real time, and the Bronx crowd of 38,131 gasped as replays were shown on the center-field scoreboard once, twice, then thrice.

“If I was a good outfielder, I would have caught it on the first try,” Judge said with a grin. “But we made the play. It’s tough timing those ones up. I was just trying to scratch and claw, bring that one back in the park. I was able to get enough glove on it.”

“Amazing; it was a really great catch,” Torres said. “He makes it look really easy, but it’s so difficult.”

That moment alone, Judge robbing Ohtani, would have been enough to talk about. Judge also took a potential homer away from Ohtani on those same grounds last May 31; that drive was slightly more toward left field, with Judge pulling it back with a leap in front of the loading dock.

Yet Judge had more to say and do. With the pesky speedster Anthony Volpe bolting from first base, Judge powered a 94.7 mph fastball from Angels starter Griffin Canning over the wall in left field, leaving the bat at 111.7 mph and traveling a Statcast-projected 412 feet toward the visiting bullpen.

“If you miss a little bit with him, he’s going to get you,” said Angels manager Phil Nevin, a former Yankees coach. “I’ve seen it many times. It’s not as much fun from the other side.”

So, the question was asked of Judge: what felt more satisfying, the catch or the homer?

“We always love putting runs on the board, especially after the game we had last night, where we couldn’t get anything clicking and were pretty flat,” Judge said. “Being able to jump out to a two-run lead there let Brito settle in and go out to do his thing.”

Judge was not a finalist for an AL Gold Glove Award last season, though he probably should have been. Voters could not decide if he was a center fielder (where he made 74 starts) or a right fielder (where he made 54 starts). Boone initially considered Judge a right fielder who occasionally moonlighted in center, then realized he could hold his own there.

“It’s one of the reasons he’s great,” Boone said. “He takes pride in every little thing in this game.”

As if to punctuate that, Judge contributed another highlight-reel play in the eighth inning, racing toward the gap in right-center field and snaring a Brandon Drury line drive with a headlong dive. That grab likely saved a run, preserving a tie after Gio Urshela swatted a game-tying single to center field off Wandy Peralta.

“That’s what it’s all about,” Judge said. “We’ve got to protect our house here.”