It was a busy 24 hours for the New York Yankees. After winning the decisive Game 5 of the ALDS over the Cleveland Guardians in New York, they hopped on a late night flight, flew halfway across the country, and landed in Houston the same day that they would be beginning the American League Championship Series against the league’s best team, who themselves had plenty of rest after sweeping their division series. Add on the fact that Justin Verlander, a future Hall of Famer who will almost certainly be winning his third career Cy Young Award this season, and you have a recipe for a disaster.
Over the course of the game, I thought long and hard over who the player of the game ought to be. Harrison Bader, the pride of Horace Mann, seemed like an early contender after his second inning home run, but then he struck out twice and went hitless the rest of the way. Clarke Schmidt made a case for himself when he bailed out a bases loaded, one-out jam in the top of the fifth, but then he surrendered back-to-back homers in the sixth. Anthony Rizzo made a late bid with a solo shot in the eighth, and Matt Carpenter had a chance at overcoming a three-strikeout game when he came up as the go-ahead run later in the inning, but Rizzo simply hadn’t done enough before then and Carpenter struck out.
That leaves us with one real option: starting pitcher Jameson Taillon. At a glance, Taillon’s line isn’t all that impressive: he managed to get just one out in the fourth inning, allowed four hits (including one home run) and three walks, and struck out none. It’s not how anyone would draw it up. But somehow, despite all that, he managed to hold the Astros to just one run.
How did Taillon do it? Since he didn’t get any strikeouts, you’d think that it would be by generating soft contact. Except he didn’t do that either, as the Astros had nine hard hit balls off of him. For reference, he faced 20 batters, 17 of which put the ball in play — that means more than half of the balls hit against him were of the hard hit variety (i.e., more than 95 mph exit velocity). Nor did he keep the ball on the ground, as he generated only four ground balls. What he did do, though, was attack the bottom of the strike zone; although opposing hitters were able to hit the ball hard, the launch angle was high enough that they turned into fly ball outs, not home runs.
In an ideal world, the Yankees would not have lined up Taillon against Verlander. It’s about as bad a mismatch you’ll find in the postseason: one’s a future Hall of Famer, the other a mid-rotation starter just as likely to blow up and give up several runs as he is to take a perfect game into the seventh inning. And yet, when he left the game, the score was tied at one apiece in the fifth. From the fourth starter in your rotation in a postseason matchup against one of the premier offenses in the league, you’ll take that every day of the week.
It’s just a shame that his bats let him down.