Before the ALCS began, I’m sure several Yankees fans would have willingly taken a split in Houston, going back to New York with the series tied at 1-1. After watching Game Two end in a crushing 3-2, 11th-inning defeat though, it’s hard not to feel like a potential opportunity to put a stamp on the series slipped away.
In his second postseason start, James Paxton had some nervous moments that ultimately led to his early exit. After a leadoff walk to George Springer in the first, Michael Brantley lined into a double play, but the Astros struck back in the second. Paxton allowed a leadoff single and then walked Yordan Alvarez, which put two on for Carlos Correa. Correa followed with an RBI double, and Houston jumped out to an early 1-0 lead.
Paxton got into more trouble in the third inning, surrendering singles to Brantley and Jose Altuve, which led to Boone’s quick hook. Paxton left after just 2.1 innings, striking out three and allowing six baserunners against only seven outs. In an important game, the Yankees needed more from Paxton. Now, the Yankees bullpen was tasked with getting (at least) 20 outs.
Boone went with Chad Green to get out of the jam, and he succeeded, getting Alex Bregman and Yordan Alvarez out, and holding the deficit at one.
Justin Verlander had not allowed a baserunner through three innings, but that changed quickly in the fourth. DJ LeMahieu worked a leadoff walk, and then Aaron Judge stole the show. Verlander hung a slider, and Judge missed none of it, crushing a 423-foot bomb into dead center, reclaiming the Yankees’ lead at 2-1. After Paxton’s uneasy start, Judge gave the Yankees an edge they desperately needed.
After another scoreless inning, Boone decided to lift Green from the game despite two dominant frames. Instead, Boone went with Adam Ottavino, who did not have his best stuff. He gave up a bomb to George Springer on his first pitch, instantly tying the game at two. Ottavino promptly allowed two more baserunners, as his postseason struggles continued. Boone called on Tommy Kahnle to clean up Ottavino’s mess, and he got out of it by striking out Alvarez.
The Yankees had a chance to take the lead back in the next inning, but came up just short. With two runners on, Brett Gardner ripped a ball to second that Altuve bobbled. Because it was a 3-2 count, the runner on second took off on the crack of the bat, but Correa recovered in time and gunned LeMahieu out at the plate. The postseason is all about gambles, and although this one didn’t work out, it was worth a shot.
After Kahnle threw a scoreless frame, the Yankees almost got to Verlander, putting two men on with two outs, but Will Harris whiffed Didi Gregorius on a nasty curveball, stranding two runners. Kahnle threw another perfect inning in the seventh, bringing things to the eighth inning tied at two runs.
At that point, Roberto Osuna fired two scoreless innings for the Astros, while Zack Britton and Aroldis Chapman shut the door for the Yankees, sending the game to extra innings, where the real stress began.
Joe Smith started off the 10th by retiring the Yankees 1-2-3, and then Aaron Boone was forced to spin the bullpen wheel. First, he called on CC Sabathia to retire Brantley, which he ultimately did (but not before falling behind 3-0 in the count). Then, Jonathan Loaisiga was tasked to get Jose Altuve and Alex Bregman out with the game on the line (something that every Yankees fan totally wanted to hear pre-game). Predictably, Loaisiga buckled, walking Altuve and Bregman, setting up J.A. Happ in the biggest pressure spot of his career.
With one out and the winning run on second base facing Yordan Alvarez, Happ beared down and gave the Yankees hope. He fanned Alvarez on a low fastball, and got Yuli Gurriel to fly out to left. The game was just about lost, but Happ had somehow kept the Yankees alive.
The Yankees, as they had done so many times before, got close but could not convert. Edwin Encarnacion walked and Gardner singled, bringing Gary Sanchez to the plate with two outs. After an epic battle with Josh James, James appeared to win by striking Sanchez out on a slider, but the umpires incorrectly ruled it a foul ball. Given a freebie, it felt like the Yankees had to win this game.
Instead, James threw a clear ball on the next pitch, but home plate umpire Cory Blaser ruled it strike three in perhaps the most damaging makeup call of the season. The Astros didn’t mess around after their gift of an inning. On the first pitch Happ threw in the bottom of the 11th, Correa drove it deep to right field, ending the game and tying the series up at one game apiece with a solo home run.
Although the Yankees’ bullpen technically lost the game, it’s not the unit that deserves the most blame. A mishmosh of Sabathia, Loaisiga and Happ got the Yankees through an unbelievable jam after the “A” relievers had combined to allow one run over seven innings. Instead, the Yankees’ bats got cold at the wrong time. Sending Verlander to the showers tied 2-2 needs to be a win, but the Yankees could only muster one hit off the Astros’ bullpen, a far cry from Game One.
Still, the Yankees are far from dead. They’re in a really good spot coming home for three games. They could potentially win the series in New York, but they’ll have to win Game Three first to make that a possibility. Gerrit Cole will take on Luis Severino in a pivotal swing game on Tuesday at 4 p.m. in the Bronx.
Fans, you know what to do.