The way this must-win game began wasn’t to the liking of Yankees fans, but soon enough James Paxton and the lineup figured it out.
George Springer started things off with a weak groundball that happened to get through Paxton and Gleyber Torres. After a passed ball and groundout by Jose Altuve, Springer made his way to third base. Paxton couldn’t get the left-handed hitting Michael Brantley out, walking him to put runners on the corner. Another passed ball gave the Astros a 1-0 lead, but no further damage was done in what felt like the beginning of a nightmare inning.
The Yankees didn’t plan on allowing the Astros to score on a fielding error and two passed balls, but that quickly became inconsequential. DJ LeMahieu took Justin Verlander deep to tie the game and energize the crowd. Aaron Judge then singled and Torres doubled as the Yankees threatened to take command of the game. After Giancarlo Stanton fought through six fastballs for a full count, he struck out on a nasty slider. Hicks soon found himself in a full count as well, but this time Verlander wouldn’t get away with the slider. Hicks hooked the pitch down to the right-field foul pole giving the Yankees a 4-1 lead.
Paxton wouldn’t allow another run to cross the plate for the rest of his appearance, going a total of six innings, striking out nine, giving up four hits and four walks. After two innings it seemed like it would be a short game for Big Maple, who threw a total of 52 pitches in two frames, but he would need just 60 pitches for the next four.
With Adam Ottavino struggling and Chad Green needed for a possibly two innings tomorrow, Aaron Boone came out during the top of the sixth to see if Paxton would be able to finish the inning, and that he did. Robinson Chirinos hit a fly ball that could have changed the complexion of the game, but Brett Gardner chased it down at the warning track for Paxton’s best outing of the postseason.
Verlander, meanwhile, battled by throwing six shutout innings after the first, allowing five hits and striking out nine over a total of seven innings.
The Yankees’ bullpen took over after that. Tommy Kahnle began the top of the seventh with a pop fly, but after a single to Springer and walk to Altuve, Boone made the walk to the mound and summoned Zack Britton, Britton made quick work of Brantley and Bregman to end all threats. He wasn’t done there, either, as Britton worked a 1-2-3 inning in the eighth.
After Brad Peacock retired the Yankees in order for the Astros, Chapman returned the favor ending the game as it was in the bottom of the first, 4-1.
With an anticipated bullpen game coming up in Houston tomorrow, both clubs look well rested for the challenge. Long relievers in Chad Green, J.A. Happ, and Luis Cessa weren’t on the mound today for the Yankees, while Houston only used two pitchers in Verlander and Peacock. Going back to Houston down 3-2 might have not been what we wished for, but the Yankees are still alive in the series. Plus, a bullpen battle is something the Yankees wouldn’t shy away from. We’ll see how well Houston does without Verlander or Cole on the mound tomorrow.