The Yankees absolutely needed this game to get their footing back in the ALCS. They didn’t get it. Plagued by a combination of stranded runners by their bats and some big blows given up by their pitching, the Yankees fell behind and could never catch back up. Houston asserted control after limiting the damage early against the Bombers, ultimately winning Game Four 8-3 and taking a commanding 3-1 lead in the series.
The first inning presented an opportunity for the Yankees to run away early with the game, and they weren’t able to capitalize. Zack Greinke struggled with his command to start, walking DJ LeMahieu and giving up a blooper to Aaron Hicks. Edwin Encarnacion walked to load the bases, and Brett Gardner took four straight balls to walk home a run. The Yankees struck first, and had a chance to really blow it open, but Gary Sanchez struck out on just three pitches to end the threat.
Greinke rebounded afterwards, giving up only two more baserunners before exiting an out into the fifth inning. Greinke’s escape in the first inning began a stretch of poor hitting for the Yankees with runners in scoring position, a spot they would finish 0-7 in while leaving ten men on base. This has been the biggest difference in the last few games for the Yankees, as the team that excelled all year at driving in runners has largely disappeared.
Meanwhile, the cracks are finally beginning to show on the pitching staff. Masahiro Tanaka got off to a sharp start, retiring six of the first seven batters he faced, but ran into a jam in the third inning. Robinson Chirinos led off with a four-pitch walk, Josh Reddick lined a single to right, and George Springer crushed a ball to left to put the Astros ahead. Tanaka would allow a few more baserunners in the inning, but stranded them with a fielder’s choice and consecutive fly outs.
Likewise, the team’s defense, so sharp through most of the playoffs, also eroded tonight, helping to decimate the Yankees’ chances. LeMahieu was unable to come up with a grounder off the bat of Bregman to start the sixth inning, and Aaron Boone went to Chad Green immediately to attempt to stop the opportunity. Green only furthered the problem, getting a pop up for the first out before surrendering a single to Yordan Alvarez and a three-run bomb to Carlos Correa.
One of the lone bright spots for the Yankees came in the bottom of the sixth, facing Houston’s second reliever of the night in Josh James. James immediately walked Gardner, and gave up a two-run home run to Sanchez that briefly brought the Yankees back within three. Sanchez had been struggling mightily before the dinger, and while he still had his downsides in this game, perhaps there is hope that he’s close to breaking out.
The Astros put the game to bed in the eighth inning. Adam Ottavino began the frame on the mound and gave up a double to Bregman before LeMahieu committed his second error of the night, allowing Yuli Gurriel to reach. Ottavino exited for CC Sabathia, making that the fourth outing of Ottavino’s postseason where he failed to record an out. He was only used for one batter in a couple of those outings, but it has undeniably been a rough October for one of the most important pieces of the Yankee bullpen.
Sabathia was greeted by another error, this time off the glove of Gleyber Torres, that allowed Alvarez on and Bregman to score. Sabathia recorded two outs in the inning, but an injury after facing Aledmys Diaz prompted the training staff to pull Sabathia from the game. It is likely the final pitch that Sabathia will throw in what will almost undoubtedly be a Hall of Fame career, and while it’s unfortunate that he had to exit in this manner, Sabathia ended his season doing what he’d always done for this team: giving every last ounce of energy he had.
Jonathan Loaisiga got the final out of the eighth, and stayed on to start the ninth. Torres made another error on a grounder from Jose Altuve, who scored a batter later on a single from Michael Brantley. Tyler Lyons recorded the final out of the inning, and the Yankees got a runner on but couldn’t rally in the bottom of the ninth.
The Yankees are now facing elimination in their final home game of the series, needing a win to at least force a trip back to Houston. Coming back from a 3-1 deficit isn’t impossible, but the odds of doing so against a team as complete as the Astros with home field against them are low, and the Yankees have to correct a lot of self-inflicted wounds to even stand a chance. They can’t afford to look big-picture with the series yet though; they’ll have to take it one game at a time, and the first one is Friday night with James Paxton on the mound against Justin Verlander.