HOUSTON -- The New York Yankees' Aaron Judge smacked what could have been a run-scoring single to left in the fifth. It was a tight play at the plate with Greg Bird arriving at the same time as Houston Astros catcher Brian McCann received the ball.
When Bird was called out, Yankees manager Joe Girardi had a flashback. It was a week ago in Cleveland when Girardi nearly submarined the Yankees' season by declining to ask for a replay on a hit batsman. Girardi might be a lot of things, but he is not one to fail to learn from his mistakes.
"Well, we thought he was out," Girardi said of Bird. "But, God knows, I'm not doing that again."
Bird was, in fact, out, thanks to Houston left fielder Marwin Gonzalez's fine throw, and the Yankees lost Game 1 of the American League Championship Series to the Astros, 2-1. While Dallas Keuchel outdueling Masahiro Tanaka was the headline, the Yankees left feeling there were encouraging signs for Judge.
The fifth-inning single was Judge's only hit in three at-bats, but he walked once, while striking out only once. In the division series against the Cleveland Indians, Judge set a record with 16 strikeouts in five games. It seemed as if Judge were getting closer to where he needs to be.
"I just want to make sure I'm hitting the mistakes," Judge said. "I don't want go after his pitch. If they are going to nibble and try to go below the zone or off the plate a little bit, I want to try and get a pitch in the zone that I can do damage on. I felt like I did an all-right job of that tonight."
In the first inning, Judge looked at a 3-0 pitch down the middle, on which he could have had the green light.
"It's early in the game," said Judge, who ended up walking.
In the eighth, representing the tying run, Judge faced Astros closer Ken Giles with a man on. Judge grounded out to third.
But it was that fifth-inning play that changed the complexion of the game. Keuchel had the Yankees' number again -- it is now 13 postseason scoreless innings for him vs. them -- but he was vulnerable in the fifth.
If Gonzalez hadn't made a perfect throw in the fifth, then maybe the Yankees could have put more runs on board and changed the direction of the game. Gonzalez fired a 97.4-mph fastball from left field, according to Statcast. It was the hardest throw from Gonzalez all year.
"I'm too slow," Bird said. "I wish I was a little faster."
Bird thought he was out. So did Girardi. But the Yankees weren't taking any chances. It didn't work out and now, once again, the Yankees are down, but far from out.
"We like being in these situations," Judge said. "That is what you dream about as a kid. You're back up against the wall and you come out swinging. We are just going to keep playing our game."