Aaron Judge says he’s motivated by failure — of Game 7 of the 2017 ALCS, of going home early in 2018, of injuring himself this year. Suffice to say, Game 1 of the 2019 ALDS won’t go in that lowlight reel.
For a national stage that may best know Judge for his towering home runs and imposing stature, the Yankees rightfielder instead showed a different facet of his incredibly advanced game. Judge, who ended the regular season having saved 19 more defensive runs than the league average, saved at least one more on Friday and then scored another two for good measure. In all, he made two diving plays to prevent potential hits and reached base three times.
“I tried to do that all year and I try to play both sides of the ball,” Judge said. “You see the pitcher out there battling and in certain situations, you’ve gotta go out there and make a play. Any time it’s hit — this is the postseason — you’ve gotta make those plays.”
In the top of the third, he robbed Jorge Polanco of at least a single, diving on a sinking liner. In the seventh, with a runner on second and two outs, he laid out on Eddie Rosario’s line drive — which looked to be a sure double – and made the catch to end the inning. Both times, he looked as if he just barely held on to the ball with the tip of his glove.
Judge, who seems destined for a Gold Glove — if not this year, then soon — hasn’t made a single error this season and had 177 putouts in his injury-shortened regular season. Of those plays, 73 were considered “out of zone” by FanGraphs. His UZR – ultimate zone rating – is 12.4 runs above average. Additionally, 7.7 percent of his plays are classified as “remote” probability plays – a 1% to 10% successful fielding probability.
“He's so good out there,” manager Aaron Boone said. “Obviously, two great plays where he lays out for balls. You see the other things he does so well just fundamentally sound, just getting behind balls to get himself into position to make throws. And then on the offensive side, I felt every at-bat he had tonight, he was all over everything. Just what might get lost in that 10-run game is the two big defensive plays that he made out in right.”
Judge did most of his offensive damage on the basepaths. He singled in the third, made his way to third on Edwin Encarnacion’s double and danced up and down the line before scoring. He walked again in the fifth before scoring on Torres’ sharp double to left. He finished 1-for-3 with two walks.
“My biggest motivator and biggest lessons I've learned is always from failure,” Judge said Thursday. “Failing — I just think back to a lot of those games in '18, the little things. The little things we missed out on, the little details we missed that might not have affected a certain play now but affected us later in the game or affected something later on. That's what this team in 2019 has capitalized on is doing the little things. Doing the little things right each and every day.”
For a player known for his big swing, Friday he proved true to his word with the little (big) things.