The 2017 American League Championship Series did not begin the way the Yankees wanted. Shut down in consecutive games in Houston, including a walk-off loss in Game 2, the Baby Bombers looked like they couldn’t handle the eventual World Series winners. After bashing their way back into the ALCS with an 8-1 win in Game 3, the Rookie of the Year (and deserving MVP) took over late as the Yankees tied the series at two.
Final Score: Yankees 6, Astros 4
Game MVP: Aaron Judge
Sonny Gray was tabbed to make his first start in 12 days, after a tough first outing against Cleveland in the ALDS. Gray had been fine for the Yankees since coming over at the trade deadline, but didn’t set the world on fire and was very clearly the fourth man in Joe Girardi’s pecking order.
However, on this night he gave the Yankees exactly what they needed, shutting the Astros out over five innings, striking out four and engineering two double plays when Houston did manage to reach base. He pitched into the sixth before being yanked, and although David Robertson did allow both inherited runners to score, no fan could complain about the effort Gray gave.
Still, it looked like it may not be enough, as the Yankees were stymied by Lance McCullers Jr. It wasn’t quite the 24 straight curveballs we’d see later in the series, but like Gray he was able to move the ball all around the zone, keeping hitters off balance.
Through six innings, Aaron Judge had produced two-thirds of the Three True Outcomes, striking out and walking — then being caught on a steal attempt — in his previous two trips to the plate. With the Yankees down a four-spot, they needed runs, and fast...
If you believe in momentum, that blast to center field was about as big a shift as you’ll ever see. That was the last pitch McCullers would throw in the game, and Didi Gregorius would greet newcomer Chris Devenski with a triple. Gary Sánchez brought Didi in with a sac fly to right, and in the span of seven pitches the Yankees had cut the lead down to two.
With the possibility of being down 3-1 in the series, Chad Green desperately needed a shutdown inning to get the sticks back up. He threw just nine pitches to retire Josh Reddick, Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa and get the Yankees back to the plate, where the big bats put New York ahead for good. Brett Gardner got them to within one with an RBI groundout, and Judge stepped in again:
About a foot shy of what would have been his second home run, the RBI double brought in Hall of Fame candidate Jacoby Ellsbury, and it was 4-4.
Remembering this game brought up so many feeling about Gary, and how prescient a hitter he could be. 2-0, 99 at the thigh, and he does exactly what you’re supposed to do with it, driving into the gap to bring in two runs and giving the Yankees a lead they would not relinquish. This series of course saw Sánchez at his very best, and also at his very worst, but perhaps no moment was bigger than this double in his entire Yankee career.
In a lot of ways, this game and Game 5 could be considered the high-water mark of the entire Baby Bombers era. The Yankees would shut out the Astros 5-0 the next night, and head back to Texas needing just one more win to capture their first pennant since 2009. We’re still waiting on that pennant — hell, we’re still waiting to beat Houston in the playoffs.