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American League Championship Series
Astros 2, Yankees 1…
Astros lead Series, 1-0
The Yankees had the answer this season for Chris Sale and they finally figured out likely AL Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber in the post-season but Dallas Keuchel remains a mystery. Unable to generate any runs against Keuchel, the Yankees fell to the Astros in the first game of the ALCS despite a solid outing from Masahiro Tanaka.
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The Yankees didn’t pick up their first hit against Keuchel until Brett Gardner lined a single to left with two outs in the 3rd inning. Unfortunately, he didn’t go anywhere when Aaron Judge followed with his only strikeout of the game.
Starlin Castro picked up a single to left, just past the outstretched glove of running shortstop Carlos Correa, in the top of 4th inning, also with two outs, but like Gardy, he did not do anything except have a brief conversation with first baseman Yuli Gurriel. Aaron Hicks flied out to center, on huge fly that nearly took center fielder George Springer to the wall, to send Castro looking for his hat and glove to take the field. A couple more feet and the Yankees might have taken the early lead.
The Astros, meanwhile, didn’t miss the only opportunity that Masahiro Tanaka gave them. With one out in the bottom of the 4th, Jose Altuve singled on a grounder to second, beating the throw to first. He subsequently stole second to put himself in scoring position. Carlos Correa’s single to left brought the probable AL MVP around to score the game’s first run. Marwin Gonzalez hit a slow grounder to second and was thrown out at first for the second out, but Correa advanced to second base. Yuli Gurriel’s single to center, a grounder up the middle between Starlin Castro and Didi Gregorius, scored Correa and the Astros had a 2-0 lead.
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The Yankees had their chance in the top of the 5th but were unable to convert. Greg Bird led off with a single to right, a sharply hit ball just past first baseman Yuli Gurriel. Matt Holliday reached on a fielding error by Jose Altuve (bobbled the ball after stopping the grounder) so the Yankees had runners at first and second with no outs. Todd Frazier lined out to center and Brett Gardner struck out but Aaron Judge followed them with a single to left. Bird hesitated a moment and then raced around third and headed home. Unfortunately, left fielder Marwin Gonzalez threw a perfect strike in to catcher Brian McCann to nail Bird at the plate for the final out of the inning. The Yankees challenged the play but replay showed Bird was less than a second too late. Sadly, Bird’s run around third seemed like slow motion compared Jose Altuve’s run in the prior inning. Credit Gonzalez and McCann for the stellar play.
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Dallas Keuchel finally left the game after seven scoreless innings (and ten strikeouts). Houston fans may love Dallas (the pitcher, not the city) but I was very glad to see him leave. But the Astros bullpen is strong and set up artist Chris Devenski has been a better version of Dellin Betances this year. Still, the Yankees had their chance in the 8th against Devenski. Brett Gardner worked a one-out walk, which brought Astros manager A.J. Hinch out of the dugout to replace Devenski with closer Ken Giles. Giles promptly threw a wild pitch with Aaron Judge at the plate, allowing Gardy to move to second. Judge grounded out to third for the second out, but Gary Sanchez walked to put two runners on for Didi Gregorius. The Yankees replaced Sanchez at first with pinch-runner Ronald Torreyes. Didi has come up so big for the Yankees in key spots this year but on this night, Giles won the battle when Didi swung and missed on an 0-2 count after three successive foul balls.
In the top of the 9th, Giles struck out both Starlin Castro and Aaron Hicks to start the inning. Greg Bird finally put the Yankees on the board when he homered to right, a high fly inside of the foul pole, to make it a one-run game.
|Credit: Anthony J Causi-NY Post|
DH Matt Holliday was due up next, but Manager Joe Girardi opted to send Jacoby Ellsbury to the plate. Ellsbury went down swinging to end the game and hand the series advantage to the Astros.
In retrospect, the huge missed opportunity was Greg Bird’s out at the plate in the 5th inning. If he had gotten a good jump when Aaron Judge hit that drive to left, he might have beaten the throw. But hats off to the Astros for making their plays. The Yankees pitched a good game but the Astros pitched a little better. Fortunately, the bullpen will be rested for Game 2 as the Yankees only had to burn Chad Green in relief of Tanaka. Green pitched two frames of scoreless relief with 31 pitches thrown.
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On the bright side, Dallas Keuchel won’t take the mound again until a potential Game 5. The Yankees offense should fare much better against crafty veteran Justin Verlander (15-8, 3.38 ERA) and the rest of the Astros starters. For Game 2, Verlander will be tough, no doubt, but the Yankees can win this game and send the series to New York with a split. We’ll have staff ace Luis Severino (14-6, 2.98 ERA) to lead the way. I like those odds.
Have a great Saturday! A perfect day would feature a Yankees win! Let’s make it happen. Go Yankees!