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ALCS Game 4 Reaction: The season ends on another backbreaker to Houston

It was a close score again, but Houston completed the sweep regardless to end the Yankees’ 2022 season.

Championship Series - Houston Astros v New York Yankees - Game Four Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images

It is so, so rough to talk about the end of a year. It comes so suddenly, and even though everyone knows going into the playoffs that your run can end in an instant, it doesn’t feel real until it does. The Yankees were underdogs in this ALCS against the Astros, both in terms of their play this year and in their historic matchup, but the end came quicker than most would’ve expected. A four-game sweep at the hands of the team that they’ve all but declared public enemy No. 1 is about as devastating an end that they could’ve conceived.

Let’s start with some of the positives, because unlike Game 3, this was a contest that New York at least looked involved in. The offense jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first inning, led by hits from Harrison Bader, Giancarlo Stanton, and Gleyber Torres. They didn’t stop there, either — they added another run in the second on an Anthony Rizzo double, the first baseman tacked on an additional run in the fourth with an RBI single, and Bader continued his electric postseason run with a solo shot in the sixth inning (his fifth in 10 games). Those five runs were more than the Yankees scored in the first three games combined, and it was clear that they didn’t go down without a fight.

Unfortunately, the dam finally burst on the pitching front that had kept them in all of these games while the offense scuttled around in Houston. Nestor Cortes clearly did not have his best stuff out of the gate, and looked quite uncomfortable on the mound. His location was spotty, and his velocity quickly started to dip, prompting some concern from the Yankees’ trainers. They left him in the game after an initial visit, but after two walks to lead off the third inning Jeremy Peña rocked him for a three-run shot and Cortes’ night was done. It was later revealed that Cortes was pitching through left groin pain and apparently had been dealing with it since the start of the postseason — an impressive feat given his earlier solid starts, but it was too much for this night.

Aaron Boone went to his ace relievers even though the game was so early because of the stakes, and a combination of Wandy Peralta, Jonathan Loáisiga and Clay Holmes got them through the game with excellent multi-inning outings — but it wasn’t enough. The Astros still rallied every time they were given an opportunity (particularly by the shoddy up-the-middle combination of Torres and Isiah Kiner-Falefa), and the Yankees’ 3-0 and 5-4 leads turned into 4-3 and 6-5 deficits, respectively. There was no dramatic ninth-inning twist this time around and no Aroldis Chapman surrendering the game-winning home run — but it was a defeat all the same.

For all of the Yankees’ efforts in revamping this roster, they’ve now run into the Houston wall three times in six years. Each time has been less competitive than the last, and that’s something worth examining even further (in fact, I’ll be doing just that later this week). For now though, the only thing to be said in the immediate post-mortem is that the Yankees proved they weren’t good enough. They made some mistakes and didn’t get to capitalize on some situations, but blow-for-blow, Houston outplayed them in this series and across this entire season. A pair of Aaron Judge highlight moments are all that separates them from not winning a single game against the Astros this season, and unfortunately those dramatics only came in the regular season.

Speaking of Judge, this ending immediately launches his free agency waiting room. There will be rumblings about his overall poor postseason performance, and there will be those that suggest that he’s lost some of the mass sums that he earned throughout this year because of it, but that’s an overreaction. The Yankees wouldn’t have even been in this position to lose in the ALCS without Judge’s heroics throughout the year, especially the second half where he practically carried eight other bats in the lineup to any wins they could get.

Judge clearly lost some steam towards the end of the year while pushing for 62 home runs, and the layoff between the regular season and ALDS apparently wasn’t enough to recover, but in the second half, these Yankees appeared to be on a collision course with their dismal 2021 ending until he lifted them up. What Judge ends up commanding on the open market is anyone’s guess, but he’ll be worth every penny and the Yankees will hopefully be the ones paying that bill.

There are plenty of other changes that could be in the works for this team — it’s clear, after all, that they need to improve to overcome an efficiently-adaptive Astros squad that has stayed on top despite the departure of several of their core stars. We’ll get into all of their options in the coming weeks, but this is a farewell to the 2022 Yankees first. This year was a wild ride, opening with low expectations and skyrocketing to hopes of domination before that too came crashing down. They settled somewhere in the middle: clearly talented and a good team amidst a field of excellent ones.

Several ballclubs that were right around their level or better faltered earlier than them, but they hit their road block all the same. We’re left with questions of what this team could’ve been like if they had their elite surge in the end of the year rather than the beginning, but it’s a marathon and not a sprint for a reason. The potential was there, but everything that was done to augment it crashed and burned instead.