Well, at least Saturday night will be a more familiar, and perhaps comfortable, position for the Yankees.
Friday night didn’t turn out to be that way at all.
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Taking the field with a series lead for the first time this postseason and with a chance to advance to the World Series, the Yankees — riding high after three straight victories in the Bronx — were shut down by Justin Verlander and a rickety Houston bullpen in a 7-1 loss to the Astros in Game 6 of the American League Championship Series at Minute Maid Park.
Game 7, which will determine whether the Yankees or Astros face the Dodgers in the World Series, will be played here Saturday night.
The good news that should have Yankees fans optimistic?
Verlander was the last good starting pitcher option for the Astros — and their bullpen, while well-rested, has few arms in it, if any, that are trusted by manager A.J. Hinch.
Verlander, while not quite as sharp as he was in Game 2, when he allowed five hits and struck out 13 in nine innings, struck out eight in seven shutout innings in Game 6.
Luis Severino, pulled after four innings of Game 2 for precautionary reasons, matched Verlander until the fifth, when he allowed three runs. Severino gave up three runs, three hits and four walks in 4 2⁄3 innings.
The Astros, who totaled nine runs in the first five games of the series, erupted in the eighth against David Robertson, scoring four times to blow open a 3-1 game.
The Yankees outhit the Astros 5-3 through seven innings, but Houston’s hits were timely: an RBI double by Brian McCann and a two-out, two-run single by Jose Altuve during a three-run fifth. Severino walked three batters in the inning, and two of them came around to score.
In a battle of American League MVP candidates, Aaron Judge homered off Brad Peacock in the top of the eighth and Altuve matched him in the bottom of the inning, homering off Robertson to make it 4-1. Robertson then gave up a double by Carlos Correa, a single by Yuli Gurriel and a two-run double by Alex Bregman. As Gurriel came home, Sanchez was unable to grab Didi Gregorius’ throw to the plate on what appeared to be an easy out, similar to the play that gave the Astros a walk-off victory in Game 2. Gregorius was charged with an error.
Robertson was relieved by Dellin Betances after Bregman’s hit, and Evan Gattis’ sacrifice fly made it 7-1.
The Astros had a .147/.234/.213 slash line as a team in the first five games. Through seven innings of Game 6, they were 25-for-174 (.144) in the series before pounding Robertson.
After Verlander struck out two in a perfect fifth, which left him at 61 pitches, Bregman worked a leadoff walk in the bottom of the inning. Marwin Gonzalez’s slow grounder to second moved Bregman to second, the night’s first runner in scoring position. After Severino walked Gattis on four pitches, McCann — after falling behind 0-and-2 — stung a 2-and-2 fastball that came in 98 mph and high in the zone, to right for a ground-rule double. That made it 1-0 and gave the Astros their first run in 16 innings. Entering the at-bat, McCann was 0-for-11 in the series.
Severino walked George Springer on four pitches to load the bases for Josh Reddick, who flied to short center, not nearly deep enough to allow Gattis to tag up at third. But Altuve, who like the rest of the Astros’ lineup didn’t do much offensively in New York, lined a first-pitch slider to left for a two-run single that made it 3-0 and ended Severino’s evening.
Chase Headley led off the sixth with a flared single to center, his second hit of the night. Brett Gardner popped to short and Judge struck out swinging at a 96-mph fastball, but Gregorius singled sharply to right, giving the Yankees their first runner in scoring position. Gary Sanchez got ahead 3-and-0 but hit a check-swing grounder to short on a slider.
Greg Bird worked a leadoff walk in the seventh and Verlander hit Starlin Castro with a pitch, a play initially ruled a ball but overturned after the Yankees challenged the call. Aaron Hicks got ahead 3-and-0 in what became a 10-pitch at-bat that Verlander finally won with a nasty slider for a swing-and-miss.
Todd Frazier then hammered a fastball to center for what looked like a potential extra-base hit, but Springer made a leaping catch against the wall. Headley grounded to second for the third out.