Aaron Judge's diving catch provides reminder where his focus is – New York Post

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HOUSTON — Aaron Judge took off like a sprinter out of the blocks, and yet he had a half-dozen reasons to pull up, play it safe, and chase the ball to the wall. He had to be completely spent after the big party in The Bronx, and after the late-night flight that got him to his hotel room around 2 a.m. Houston time, 3 a.m. Eastern.
Judge had homered in the Game 5 victory over Cleveland. He had splashed around in the champagne bath in the clubhouse. He had granted a couple of group interviews, and checked with some familiar writers to see if they needed a few more minutes of his time.
And then the slugger showered, hopped on the team bus to Newark Airport, and boarded the team plane bound for Texas and another playoff round that promised to be much more stressful than the one that preceded it — at the tail end of a historic six-month run that was more stressful than any ballplayer not named Roger Maris could’ve fathomed.
So surely Judge arrived at Minute Maid Park needing a day off, just like the rest of the Yankees did. Storm patterns and TV schedules conspired to make their Division Series last longer than the French Revolution, so they had to open the ALCS and face the team that’s owned them in October, the Astros, without getting a chance to catch their collective breath.
And then the first inning of Game 1 got noisy for Jameson Taillon, leaving two Astros on base and Alex Bregman at the plate. Justin Verlander had gotten through his half of the inning without surrendering a run, and when Bregman lashed a sinker toward right center, it didn’t look like Taillon would do the same.
But then Judge took off from right field as if it were the ninth inning of a tied Game 7. The way he was moving, you would’ve never guessed he is a 6-foot-7, 282-pound man, measurables made world famous by his record 62-homer season. As Judge raced to a point in the grass where he could intercept this screaming liner, he was likely thinking that Taillon would need all the help he could get on this night.
The Yankees starter said he thought Bregman’s shot was “100 percent in the gap.” Astros manager Dusty Baker said he thought his team was scoring two runs on the play for sure. Center fielder Harrison Bader said he knew that his teammate was going to make the catch the whole way.
“I was just trying to do my job there,” Judge would say later. “Bregman’s a guy who can spray it all around the field. Off the bat, I thought I had a good jump, and kinda lost it in the lights for a second. But I know I have [Harrison] Bader behind me so if I dive and miss it, I know he’s right there to pick me up.”
Judge took eight or nine rapid-fire steps before leaving his feet and launching his massive frame into an all-out dive. He could have thought about a lot of things before making this decision. He could have thought about the relatively low stakes — it was only the first inning of the series after all — and frankly, he could have thought about himself.
This fall, Judge is scheduled to land a nine-figure free-agent contract that will pay him north of $300 million. He could have protected his fatigued body, and nobody would’ve been the wiser. He could’ve reduced the risk of injury by taking the headfirst dive off the table.
But Judge feared no personal consequences on this pursuit. The ultimate full-scholarship player showed a walk-on’s desire by making an incredible catch for a man of his size. For a man of any size. He saved two runs in the process, and even though the Yankees would lose by a 4-2 count, it had to be noted that Judge sacrificed himself to give his team its best chance to win.
He made a Ron Swoboda catch (see Game 4, 1969 World Series) on the 16th anniversary of Endy Chavez’s catch (see Game 7, 2006 NLCS). The play, Taillon said, “definitely took some momentum back and put it on our side.”
The force of Judge’s landing could have caused his face to bounce off the grass, maybe chipped a tooth or bloodied his nose. The right fielder was too busy making the play to sweat the small stuff. Judge knows that if his team is finally going to beat the Astros, it will have to do the little things right along with the big things.
On his way out of the building, Judge was told that he’d just made the best catch of his career. “You think so?” he said. “I’ve brought some home runs back before.”
He was told that the athleticism and commitment required on this play topped those catches at the wall. “I gotta check the replay,” Judge responded.
The replays never lie. Even in defeat, they will show that Aaron Judge lays it on the line on both sides of the ball. They will show that he is a franchise player worth more than $300 million to any franchise lucky enough to employ him.
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