The date was October 5, 2006. The Yankees were supposed to take a 2-0 lead against the Tigers in the Division Series with Mike Mussina facing some kid at the old Yankee Stadium. Even though he would win Rookie of the Year, it felt like a good bet that the “Murderers’ Row and Robbie Canó” lineup would take care of business.
But that was the day I first learned just how much of a pain in the ass Justin Verlander could be. He was a little rough around the edges, walking four batters and putting a bunch of men on, but his tenacity was remarkable. He stranded most of his runners, save for a Johnny Damon homer, and the Tigers hung in there to win it, 4-3. The series never returned to the Bronx. Sixteen years and a number of big playoff wins later, that same Verlander guy is still driving me nuts.
Making his first start at the new Yankee Stadium since season-ending Tommy John surgery in 2020, Verlander was as productive as he was before the procedure. He’s not striking out 300 batters in a season anymore, and he only K’d three tonight, but it hardly mattered. Through seven innings, he allowed just four hits and a walk to a lineup that could give “Murderers’ Row and Robbie Canó” a run for its money, and one big blast from Kyle Tucker was all the offense Verlander needed in a 3-1 Astros victory.
Luis Severino was given the challenge of matching up with Verlander, and even with the future Hall of Famer still shining at age-39, the Yankees’ right-hander was mostly up to the task. With a brilliant assist from Aaron Hicks, Sevy retired the first 10 Astros in order, striking out a quartet of batters along the way and showing off some pretty sick stuff in the process:
Luis Severino, Nasty 87mph Slider. pic.twitter.com/5iChnuH0JY— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) June 24, 2022
Michael Brantley walked to break the streak in the fourth, and a batter later, Yordan Alvarez singled for Houston’s first hit. Faced with his first jam and the underrated Tucker at bat, Severino was unyielding, and he got Tucker to fly out to Hicks to end the inning.
The Astros immediately put Severino’s feet to the fire again in the fifth. Yuli Gurriel led off with a double and Aledmys Díaz smashed a single to put runners on the corners. An out could’ve scored a run, but again, Sevy held firm. He struck out Jason Castro, Jake Meyers, and Jose Altuve in order to keep Houston off the board.
The third time, however, proved to be the charm for the Astros in the sixth, when they got to test Severino again. This is not a lineup known for leaving runners out there to dry, and if you give them enough chances, they’ll burn you. With one out, Alex Bregman doubled, Alvarez walked, and Tucker emphatically got his vengeance against Sevy:
The 393-foot tank made it 3-0, Astros. Severino got the next two batters out, and that was the end of his outing. He struck out seven across six innings, but one of the five hits allowed turned out to be the most impactful one of the ballgame. Still, it was perfectly respectable against a lineup like Houston’s.
The Yankees got one back off Verlander in the home half of the sixth. Giancarlo Stanton snapped a 1-for-27 skid on Thursday when he victimized Framber Valdez with a three-run bomb in the first, and for the second-straight night, he took a terrific Houston starter deep:
In the blink of an eye, it was 3-1 on the 363rd homer of Stanton’s career. He’s three behind not-so-much-Yankees legend Lance Berkman for 83rd all-time, in over 2,000 fewer plate appearance.
Manager Dusty Baker removed Verlander from the game for reliever Phil Maton in the eighth, and the Yankees saw an opportunity. DJ LeMahieu led off with a single, and though Aaron Judge struck out, Anthony Rizzo walked to bring Stanton back up as the potential go-ahead run. Josh Donaldson was waiting in the wings for his shot, as well. But Maton wasn’t fazed by the two sluggers, and they joined Judge on the K parade to end the inning quietly.
The 2022 Yankees are nothing if not resilient though, and in the ninth, they brought the winning run to the plate. Rafael Montero issued a one-out walk to Hicks, and after Isiah Kiner-Falefa grounded out, pinch-hitter Matt Carpenter got the free pass as well. LeMahieu had his shot, but a bouncer to Bregman at third wrapped this one up.
There would be no ninth-inning heroics in this one. Instead, it was a straightforward 3-1 Astros win. Remarkably, it was the Yankees’ first defeat at Yankee Stadium in just over a month, breaking a 15-game winning streak. It sadly had to end eventually, and at least the Yankees didn’t make it easy.
Next up is the third game of this weekend marathon, where the Yankees will try to shake off the rare home loss. It will be a quick turnaround, as they are set to square off with the Astros tomorrow afternoon at 1:05pm ET. The matchup will be Gerrit Cole against Cristian Javier.