2017-10-21 00:19:04
Astros 7, Yankees 1 | Series is tied, 3-3: Yankees Are Undone by Altuve and Verlander as the Astros Force a Game 7

00:19, October 21 266 0

HOUSTON — The Houston Astros, riding another stellar pitching performance from Justin Verlander, an acrobatic catch from center fielder George Springer and a better-late-than-never awakening of their bats, beat the Yankees, 7-1, on Friday night to force a seventh game in the American League Championship Series.

Verlander, who threw a complete-game, 13-strikeout masterpiece in Game 2, shut out the Yankees for seven innings — thanks in part to Springer, whose leaping catch off Todd Frazier’s seventh-inning drive to the center-field wall with two runners aboard kept the Yankees at bay.

It was one of several anxious moments the Astros endured before they pounded reliever David Robertson for four runs in the bottom of the eighth inning to pull away.

The Yankees’ loss, after three consecutive wins at Yankee Stadium, tied the series at three games apiece and set up a decisive Game 7 on Saturday night. The Yankees will send C. C. Sabathia against Charlie Morton. . It will be the fifth time the Yankees have faced elimination in the 2017 postseason.

The Yankees, at least, will not have to face Verlander, who won an elimination game for the fourth time in his career.

The only Yankees run came after Verlander departed, when Aaron Judge hit a towering home run off Brad Peacock with one out in the eighth to bring the Yankees within 3-1. The home run seemed to unnerve Peacock, but after falling behind Didi Gregorius on a 3-0 count, he threw a strike and then retired him on a lazy fly ball. Peacock then struck out Sanchez, who took a 3-2 fastball for a called strike.

Verlander has been rejuvenated by his Aug. 31 trade from Detroit, which came minutes before the deadline for him to be eligible for the postseason. He entered Friday having won all seven starts in an Astros uniform — as well as gaining a victory in a relief appearance in the division-series clincher against the Red Sox – and compiling a 1.39 earned run average.

Few pitchers have his playoff résumé, which includes a pair of Game 5 shutouts of the Oakland Athletics and three wins over the Yankees.

“I consider him to have a bionic arm,” Astros Manager A.J. Hinch said before Game 6. “He’s never fatigued. Whatever that pitch count, I hope he gets as many outs as he can.”

Verlander looked vulnerable at the start of the game, when Brett Gardner led off by lashing a single to left. Judge then whistled a 1-1 slider on the ground toward left field, but shortstop Carlos Correa crouched to backhand the ball, spun around and flipped to second baseman Jose Altuve, who completed a slick double play.

The Yankees had few hard-hit balls after that, rarely getting on top of Verlander’s four-seam fastballs up in the strike zone, where contact often resulted in towering but unthreatening fly balls. In all, he allowed five hits — all singles — and one walk, striking out eight.

The Astros, who had not scored in 15 innings, broke through in the fifth on a run-scoring double by the former Yankee Brian McCann — his first hit of the series — and a two-run, two-out single by Altuve, who jumped on a first-pitch slider from Luis Severino.

The decision to allow Severino to face Altuve, with Chad Green warming up, was a second-guesser’s delight.

When asked before the game about the depth of his well-rested bullpen, Yankees Manager Joe Girardi said: “Believe me, it’s been really nice to have. I know that we have weapons down there. We approach games that we went and got those weapons to win games with those weapons, and I’m not afraid to go with them.”

That bullpen will not be so fresh — or fearsome — come Saturday night, however. Green is most likely unavailable after throwing 38 pitches in two and one-third scoreless innings in Game 6, and Robertson was assailed for a home run by Altuve, doubles by Correa and Bregman and a single by Yuli Gurriel — the only four hitters he faced.

If there was a consolation for the Yankees, it was that they made Astros closer Ken Giles expend himself in the ninth, throwing 23 pitches.

The Yankees’ best chances came late against Verlander. Chase Headley looped a single to center to lead off the sixth, and after Gardner popped up and Judge struck out, Didi Gregorius laced a single that landed just in front of right fielder Josh Reddick.

That brought up Sanchez, who took three borderline pitches for balls to find himself in a 3-0 count. But Sanchez took a checked swing on the next pitch, a slider, and tapped a slow roller to shortstop that Correa handled easily.

The Yankees threatened again in the seventh when Verlander walked Bird and nicked Starlin Castro with a pitch that sent him to first and Bird to second after a video review. But with the tying run at the plate, and no one out, Verlander struck out Hicks at the end of a tense at-bat, and Springer then made his leaping catch. Verlander escaped when he retired Headley, who had seven hits in his last nine at-bats, on a grounder to second.

When the out was recorded, Verlander roared and pumped his fists, then waited — along with Altuve and Correa — to high-five Springer as he came off the field.

While Severino was easily the Yankees’ best pitcher during the regular season, he has been their most sporadic in the playoffs. He lasted one-third of an inning in the wild-card playoff, allowed two homers but otherwise pitched well in beating Cleveland, and was lifted after four innings in Game 2 against the Astros when he stretched his shoulder after a pitch.

Though Severino said he was fine, there is some apprehension about his workload. Severino entered Friday having thrown 810 more pitches than last season — about a one-third increase or nearly twice what teams generally allow.

“Am I concerned about him?” Girardi said before the game. “Yeah, I’m a little concerned about it, and I think you have to keep it in the back of your mind and you have to manage — to me — maybe cautious instead of saying we’re going to let him go.”

Severino matched Verlander pitch for pitch through four innings, but came unhinged in the fifth. He walked Alex Bregman, who took second on a slow roller to second baseman Starlin Castro and followed with a four-pitch walk to Evan Gattis.

That brought up McCann, who fell into an 0-2 count, took a slider and a fastball just off the plate to even the count, then pulled a drive into the right-field corner that one-hopped the wall and bounced in the stands. Bregman scored easily, and Gattis was required to stop at third.

After pitching coach Larry Rothschild visited Severino, he retired Josh Reddick, who is hitless in the series, on a fly ball to shallow center field.

But with Green warming up, Girardi stuck with Severino, who had struck out Altuve on three pitches in his first at-bat. This one did not last long. Severino delivered a belt-high slider that Altuve ripped past lunging third baseman Todd Frazier and into left field, scoring Gattis and McCann without a play and putting the Astros in front by 3-0.

As Altuve stood at first, he pounded his chest — a declaration that the Astros were not done yet.