in right field, ”he said. "There is no doubt about it."
It took seven innings for the Tigers' bats to come alive in the cold, Bronx air Monday night and when it did – for seconds, as one, squared-up Niko Goodrum swing traveled on a line to right-center field – this early-season game between David and Goliath hung in the balance.
On the swing, Goodrum thought he had a hit. Out of the box, definitely. Just as he approached first base, watching big Aaron, Goodrum said, "I thought, when he laid out, it was going to drop."
Aaron Judge is congratulated by a teammate at the end of the top of the eighth inning, after he made a catch on a line drive with two runners on base Monday. (Photo: Julie Jacobson, AP)
But Judge, at 6 feet 7, made remarkable – if not incredibly risky – catch, backhanding the ball inches before it could hit the turf, extinguishing the only fire the Tigers 'offense showed.
Once again, the Tigers' bats were kept at bay – they totaled two hits, both by shortstop Jordy Mercer. Once again, they had their chance – they walked seven times and left eight men on base. Once again, they struck out too many times – nine, to be exact. And once again, those offensive woes sunk them in a series-opening,  to the Yankees.
"He hit that ball on the button," Gardenhire said. “We had a couple guys on, that was our big opportunity offensively, and (Judge) made a great play. If he dives for that and we get it by him, that's a ballgame. So that was the game of the game. ”
Despite not having much to show for their efforts offensively, the Tigers (2-3) have been in two of their three losses until the end, thanks to a strong performance at their pitching staff.
Right-hander Tyson Ross made his Tiger debut in the loss, allowing three runs – two earned – over five innings. Boss of eight baserunners – four hits and four walks – but limited the damage in this band box of a baseball stadium, surrendering a pair of solo home runs and a single that Christin Stewart errantly turned into a double and run scored.
Christin Stewart misplays in the third inning Monday. (Photo: Adam Hunger, USA TODAY SPORTS)
On that third-in-play, already down a run after Gary Sanchez parked a hanging pitch over the center field wall to lead-off the second, Greg Bird slapped on Low, line drive single to left field, which Stewart – which is expected to be challenged defensively this season – could not control.
The ball squirted past Stewart and Luke Voit, a big-bodied power-hitter, scored from first base, sliding a few feet before relay throwing out of the field reached catcher Grayson Greiner. The run gift New York a two-run lead – the Tigers would not score as many.
"The whole pitching staff threw the ball good and Tyson gave us an opportunity to win," Gardenhire said. “A good opportunity. I enjoyed that part of it. He gift up a couple runs here and there, but nothing too awful big – this ballpark can really eat up when the ball is flying – but like I said, that was the play of the game, that was the play on that rocket we hit, with a couple guys on.
"That was our chance."
Goodrum, whose swing has reverted to spring training form in the past two games, hitting the ball with left-handed authority, said: " Six-seven, I guess; six-eight, I don't know how tall he is. Yeah, I thought it was going to be a hit. He got me. ”
Added third baseman Jeimer Candelario, from two lockers away:“ Everybody did. ”
But Judge, who is known for his prodigious power and not his defensive prowess, made a quick-reaction decision to go to the ball – risk and perhaps even injury be damned.
Goodrum's lost opportunity highlighted the biggest reason for the Tigers' scuffling ways to start the season : "Every team goes through that," Goodrum said. “It will click for us. We get those hits we need and we never lose sight of what we've been doing or what we can do. Everybody just hits that spot where, getting those runs is a little bit harder. It's just a little spell. ”
On Monday night, they seemingly got the hit they needed, before Judge took it away. The runners who reached base on walks to start the inning stayed put. And two fly outs to center field later, the Tigers' best rally was behind them, still searching for the big hit they haven't been able to come up with often enough.
"It's part of the game," Goodrum said . "Just roll with it."
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Pete Caldera, Staff Writer, @pcaldera