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Yankees 7, Astros 8: Another ninth-inning implosion blows surefire win

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The Yankees blew a five-run lead in the ninth, giving Jose Altuve and the Astros the last laugh.

New York Yankees v Houston Astros Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

With three outs to go, it sure looked like the Yankees were going to snuff out the Astros and go into the break on a high note. Unfortunately, as the late, great Yogi Berra put it, “It ain’t over ‘till it’s over.” The normally-reliable Chad Green absolutely fell apart in the ninth as Houston plated six runs and walked off on a gut-punching blast by Jose Altuve.

If you want to quit reading there, no one will judge you — no one at all. But if you dare to traverse this nightmare, let’s embark on this free-fall ride together.

The Yankees’ quest to sweep Houston began with an example of philosopher-broadcaster Michael Kay’s Fallacy of the Predetermined Outcome. After his leadoff walk, DJ LeMahieu got greedy and made a TOOTBLAN at third base with Aaron Judge at the plate. Judge promptly walked, and with one out, Giancarlo Stanton chopped a ball to right field that almost certainly would have scored LeMahieu had he been on second base. Alas, it was not to be. Luke Voit weakly hacked at strike three to end the inning with runners on the corners.

Jameson Taillon picked up where he left off against the Mariners in his last start with a quiet first inning. Michael Brantley, last seen battling Gerrit Cole to the death in the ninth inning on Saturday night, managed a single to right field, but Jamo otherwise cruised through a quiet and stress-free first inning.

The Yankees finally put a run on the board in the third. After Framber Valdez walked Gary Sánchez and Voit, Gleyber Torres ripped a ball to shortstop that Robel García misplayed. Sánchez motored home, beating the throw from Yordan Alvarez, and making it 1-0 Yankees.

Unlike his last start against the Mariners, this time Taillon failed to deliver the shutdown inning after his offense scored for him. Martín Maldonado, hitting .171 in the 9-hole for Houston, led off the bottom of the third with a opposite-field dinger that tied the game at one and turned the Houston lineup over. Over 20 innings into the series, the Astros had their first run. Taillon recovered quickly and staunched the bleeding, sending the bats back to work in a once-again tied game.

Leading off the fourth inning, new Yankees legend Tim Locastro wasn’t having any of that, though. He rocked a 2-1 pitch from Valdez for an oppo taco of his own, restoring the Yankees’ one-run lead.

In the bottom of the inning, Taillon found himself in a bit of a squirrely situation, after a combination of two walks and three stolen bases left him facing runners on second and third with two outs. Taillon stiffened his spine, though, and struck García out swinging to end the inning with the good guys still leading. Shutdown innings are great, folks.

Escaping that jam was huge because in the top of the fifth, after a single by Stanton and a walk by Voit, Torres hit a 111.5-mph screamer through shortstop and into left-center field. Stanton barely managed to avoid the ball, but he scored easily on the play, making it 3-1 Yankees as Valdez’s day came to a close.

Unfortunately, with runners on the corners and no one out, Gio Urshela flew out to shallow left and Andre Scrubb fanned both Locastro and Brett Gardner, leaving the ducks on the pond.

Taillon came back out in the fifth and induced three easy cans of corn. Shutdown innings indeed, sir. It looked like Jamo would replicate that performance in the sixth with a pair of harmless fly balls. But with two out, he missed over the plate with his slider to lefty Kyle Tucker. One swing of the bat later and the Yankees lead was one. Aaron Boone trusted Taillon to escape the inning without further damage and the hurler repaid that faith. Taillon’s final line: six innings, three hits, two runs, and four strikeouts.

After walking in the top of the seventh with two outs, Torres stole second, and that turned out to be a pivotal play. On the very next pitch, Urshela poked a single into right field. Torres slid into home and juuuuust managed to touch the plate to restore the two-run cushion.

With a two-run lead, but with Jonathan Loaisiga on the COVID-19 IL and Aroldis Chapman still broken, Boone had to get creative for the final nine outs of the game. For the seventh inning, he tagged Domingo Germán to pitch in relief. The typical starter made Boone look like a genius, as he cruised through the bottom of the Astros order.

The quest for insurance runs continued in the eighth. With one out, LeMahieu walked, his third free pass of the game. Judge followed by doing the exact same thing – the ninth bases on balls of the day for Yankee batters. Sánchez then seemingly secured the Yankees’ sweep dreams with a clutch three-run dinger on an awful, awful 0-2 fastball.

The score was 7-2 Yankees, and the question of who would pitch the eighth appeared a lot less urgent. Germán came back out, and though he allowed one baserunner, a 4-6-3 double play erased that and sent the game to the ninth after the Bombers neglected to build on their lead despite a couple walks.

With a five-run lead and Germán pitching well, Aaron Boone left him in to try and finish it off. Unfortunately, an infield single and a Tucker double off the left-field wall put runners on second and third with no one out. That did it for Germán, and Chad Green entered to lock down the sweep. All seemed well in hand, but the Yankees would soon suffer the consequences of Loaisiga — and to an extent, Chapman — being out of commission.

Brace yourself if you’re bold (or self-loathing) enough to read on.

Chas McCormick greeted Green with a booming double that scored both runners and cut the Yankees’ lead to 7-4. It got worse when Abraham Toro followed with another double to cut the lead to two with no one out and the tying run on base. Pinch-hitter Jason Castro then blooped one into center field to put runners at the corners and the go-ahead run at the plate — again with none out. And all the Yankees’ runners left on base loomed extremely large over a ninth inning that seemed like a laugher just 10 minutes prior.

Maldonado lined out for the first out, but of course, it all came down to Yankee nemesis Jose Altuve against Green. Seconds after the YES booth commented on Green’s breaking ball being too flat, Altuve pounced on a 1-1 breaker. He smashed it into left-field for a three-run home run. Unbelievably, incredibly, im-freaking-possibly, a game that a short time ago looked like a sure thing was now a walk-off 8-7 loss to the Astros. What an absolutely soul-crushing way to end the first half.

The Yankees did take four of six on the road trip and against Houston in 2021, so there’s a silver lining if you’re looking for one. Here’s hoping the club recharges, refocuses, and gets ready to make a second half charge beginning on Thursday night against the Red Sox.

They have an uphill climb in the division, but well, it ain’t over till it’s over. Today reminded us all of that.

Box Score