There was some hope that the Yankees could continue the good vibes from their series victory against the Rays over the weekend, but aspirations for a Yankees victory vanished into the night just like Chris Carter's towering home run in the ninth inning. It was quite the joyous occasion.
Veteran lefty Chris Capuano got the start for the Yankees tonight, and on his 36th birthday, it looked like he was going to turn in a pretty good pitching performance. He struck out six batters through the first four innings, all scoreless. He allowed a baserunner to reach in each of those innings, but none were able to advance. Meanwhile, Capuano's batterymate Brian McCann put the Yankees on top early with a booming two-run homer to deep right field in the bottom of the fourth inning against Astros starter Brett Oberholtzer (or Oberholster, according to YES announcer John Flaherty).
Capuano seemed to have a handle on the situation when he got the first two Astros batters out in the fifth, but a Gregorio Petit double to shallow left was followed by an RBI single from Robbie Grossman. Although Capuano then walked Jose Altuve, he ended the inning by fanning Carter for his seventh strikeout of the night. The next inning offered no such relief. Dexter Fowler crushed a pitch for a leadoff triple in the sixth, and he came home to tie the game on a groundout by All-Star catcher Jason Castro. Two straight singles by Matt Dominguez and Jonathan Singleton ended Capuano's night after 103 pitches. Adam Warren entered for his first game in over a week, and after inducing a comebacker from Jake Marisnick, pinch-hitter Marwin Gonzalez lined a single to right field. The two runners came around to score to give the Astros a 4-2 lead. Warren has simply not looked good in quite some time, and that only makes the bullpen weaker at this crucial time.
However, the Yankees did not wait long to come back and tie it. Jacoby Ellsbury led off the bottom of the sixth with a walk, then moved to second on a balk by Oberholtzer. Mark Teixeira struck out, but Carlos Beltran worked a walk and the suddenly red-hot Martin Prado smashed a double down the left field line that fortunately did not bounce into the stands as it appeared it might, allowing both Ellsbury and Beltran to come around and score. The game was tied at four, and though reliever Tony Sipp stranded Prado, things were looking up for the Yankees.
Shawn Kelley and Dellin Betances pitched nearly flawless innings to give the offense a chance. Ellsbury tried to spark another rally in the eighth with his third hit of the night, an infield single toward second base. He stole second base during a Teixeira strikeout, and he moved to third when Castro's throw deflected off him and trickled into center field. Regrettably, Ellsbury couldn't score, as Beltran could only manage a grounder toward Gonzalez at shortstop, who threw home to retire Ellsbury, who was running on contact. Prado registered his third hit of the night afterwards, but McCann flew out to end the inning.
It all came apart for the Yankees in the ninth, as the normally reliable David Robertson simply did not have his best stuff on this night. With one out, he walked Grossman, who stole second, then lost Altuve on a walk as well. Home plate umpire Paul Emmel had an irritatingly inconsistent strike zone tonight, but Robertson wasn't hitting his spots. He then fell behind 3-0 on Carter, who had struck out four times already. Robertson tried to get a pitch over for a strike and Carter destroyed it. The slugger's 30th homer of the season landed deep in the left field bleachers, and the Astros took a commanding 7-4 lead. A Fowler single followed, and Joe Girardi decided to remove Robertson from the game. Robertson has been excellent all year, but the fans booed him because of course they did. Sigh. No off-days allowed ever.
Rich Hill was shaky in concluding the inning, though he didn't allow any more runners to score. It didn't end up mattering as Chad Qualls pitched a perfect ninth to close out the Yankees and push them another game back in the Wild Card race. They now sit four games back of the Mariners and Tigers for the second Wild Card spot. They will try to regain focus and tie the series tomorrow night, as Scott Feldman faces Michael Pineda, who will be making his second start for the Yankees since returning from injury. So there's that to watch, at least!