The Yankees entered Sunday afternoon's game hoping to take three out of four from the Astros. However, opposing starter Collin McHugh had other plans, as he left the Yankees' offense in his dust over an eight-inning gem, and Astros won the series finale 3-1.
Michael Pineda and McHugh both posted zeroes through the first two innings, but the Yankees were the first to get on the scoreboard. With one out in the third, McHugh made the mistake of walking Stephen Drew and then uncorking a wild pitch to move Drew to second base with Brett Gardner due up. The scorching-hot should-be All-Star slapped a base hit up the middle, bringing Drew around to score and putting the Yankees up, 1-0. That single also gave Gardner 22 hits in his last 43 at-bats, a preposterous .512 average since the start of play on June 18th.
Unfortunately, a huge mental error involving Gardner led to the Astros tying the game in the fourth. Carlos Correa lifted a fly ball between Garrett Jones and Gardner in left-center field. (Yes, Jones started in left field for the first time since 2010. Just go with it.) Both outfielders tried to call for it and the ball landed untouched, only to have Gardner accidentally push the ball futher away, allowing Correa to circle the bases for a double and a two-base error. (Watch if you dare.) Some blame has to go on the inexperienced Jones for not deferring to the center fielder there, but Gardner is the leader of the outfield defense. He has to make that catch.
After the Yankees' best impression of the previous few years' Astros teams, McHugh and Pineda settled into a pitchers' duel. The Yankees needed some length from Pineda today with all of Dellin Betances, Justin Wilson, and Chasen Shreve receiving a much-needed day off after working back-to-back ballgames, and "Big Mike" certainly delivered. Through six innings, he was economic on his pitch count and allowed no earned runs on just four hits. Meanwhile, the Yankees did nothing against McHugh. The former Mets castoff notched eight innings of two-hit ball--the Yankees' lone baserunner after the second came on an Alex Rodriguez single. They were dominated, plain and simple.
The Astros broke the tie thanks to the help of their sensational young shortstop. Correa doubled down to shallow left and Jose Altuve bunted him over to third base. Evan Gattis provided the decisive blow against Pineda with a booming RBI triple to deep left-center field in no man's land. To his credit, Pineda stranded pinch-runner Marwin Gonzalez at third base with a Luis Valbuena "stike 'em out" and an easy pop into foul territory by Chris Carter.
In the eighth, Pineda surrendered another run on a double and an eventual sacrifice fly, but fans need should turn elsewhere if they want someone to blame. He gave the bullpen the day off with an eight-inning complete game, the first of his career, and he struck out eight Astros while issuing no walks over 107 pitches. With just a little bit of offensive and defensive support, this afternoon could have been something special. Alas.
McHugh departed after eight, but the Yankees fared no better in the ninth. Closer Luke Gregerson retired the side in order to secure Houston's 3-1 victory. Forced to settle for a four-game split, the Yankees now travel further west to Anaheim, where they take on Mike Trout and company for three games beginning tomorrow at 10:05pm. It's a matchup of washed-up former All-Stars, as C.J. Wilson faces CC Sabathia and a thankfully rested bullpen.