The play by Judge showed that even on a day when he struck out four times, he could find ways to influence a game. It showed not just his raw athleticism, but the skills he refines each day in batting practice, when he spends 10 to 15 minutes in the outfield reading when the ball leaves the bat.
“An outfielder can get a lot better quickly if you do it religiously,” said the bench coach Rob Thomson, who oversees the outfielders.
According to the statistical website FanGraphs, Judge began Sunday with six runs saved by his defense, the most among American League right fielders. The elements that make a good outfielder were evident in Judge’s catch, and they needed to be. He got a good read. He took a direct route. He tracked the ball, a necessity to prevent it from blending into the background, the translucent roof of Tropicana Field. And he held onto the ball after landing on the warning track.
“He has to do everything right to make that play,” Girardi said.
There was more.
Once Judge caught the ball, he flipped it to second baseman Starlin Castro, who lobbed it to shortstop Didi Gregorius, who tossed it to first baseman Chris Carter to double off Corey Dickerson, who had been pulling into third when Judge made the grab.
When reliever Chad Green, who had delivered a 1-2 slider to Longoria, saw where the ball was headed, he immediately turned to back up home plate. “Judge just came out of nowhere,” he said. “I was as surprised as you guys. He covered a lot of ground.”
Judge was nonchalant after the play, resuming his position without even a smile. But when he returned to the dugout at the end of the sixth inning, he was greeted by high-fives and attaboys, and a long thank you from Green.
“That’s what we get paid to do, to make plays out there,” Judge said. “That’s what I did. I made a play.”
Judge, an unfailingly pleasant presence in the clubhouse, abhors speaking about his long homers, and he was only slightly more comfortable acknowledging his defensive effort. But as he stood at his locker after the game, he did allow, with a smile, that he had just seen the replay.
How would he grade it?
“Good catch,” he said, struggling to keep a straight face.
The play helped make a winner of C. C. Sabathia, who allowed one earned run — a Derek Norris homer — over five innings and was followed on the mound by Green, Tyler Clippard and Dellin Betances. Clippard retired Logan Morrison on a fly ball to end the seventh with a runner at third, and Betances struck out three of the four hitters he faced.
It was a tale of two sides of the plate for the Yankees, whose right-handed hitters were flummoxed by Chris Archer’s 97-mile-per-hour fastball and sharp diving slider. Gary Sanchez, Matt Holliday, Castro, Judge and Carter were a combined 0 for 14 against Archer, with 10 strikeouts and a double play. In all, the Yankees struck out 17 times.
The Yankees scored all their runs in the second, the damage done by left-handed hitters. Gregorius, who had four hits, singled home Jacoby Ellsbury, who led off with a double. And Brett Gardner hit his eighth home run, hooking a two-out, first-pitch slider — a pitch he was not looking for — just over the right-field wall.
“Usually I’m a little more passive and take a few more pitches,” Gardner said. “But when you’re swinging the bat well, you can afford to be a little more aggressive.”
Gardner admitted that he did not think the lead would hold up when the ball left Longoria’s bat and headed toward the gap. Still, he understands better than most what Judge is capable of, how he marshals his uncommon size and athleticism — at the plate, on the bases and in the field.
“I think he picked the right sport,” he said.
The Yankees, with their bullpen stretched, recalled Bryan Mitchell from Class AAA Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and sent down Giovanny Gallegos, who pitched one and a third innings Saturday. … Greg Bird, on the disabled list since May 2 with a bruised ankle, will begin baseball activities Monday. … Infielder Gleyber Torres, the Yankees’ top prospect, was promoted Sunday from Class AA Trenton to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.