2017-10-22 00:29:03
Astros 4, Yankees 0 | Houston wins series, 4-3: Astros Shove Aside the Yankees and Head to the World Series

00:29, October 22 203 0

HOUSTON — On the eve of Game 7 of the American League Championship Series, Chase Headley, who had played one postseason game in his 11-year career before this October, reached for some perspective.

If the Yankees, months ago, had been offered one do-or-die game to advance to the World Series, Headley said, there was not a player in the clubhouse who would have rejected the proposition.

It was a reminder of the team’s modest goals at the start of this season, when General Manager Brian Cashman was simply hoping that his promising young players would gain maturity in 2017 and move a step closer to being a dynamic club down the road.

But that long view was largely absent on Saturday night when the Yankees’ season came to a disheartening end with a 4-0 loss to the Houston Astros, who will face the Los Angeles Dodgers in the World Series. What seemed to be right in the Yankees’ reach — a berth in the Series and perhaps a record 28th championship — instead slipped from their grasp.

Solo home runs by Evan Gattis and Jose Altuve and a two-run double by the former Yankee catcher Brian McCann provided plenty of support for two of the less heralded members of the Astros’ starting rotation, Charlie Morton and Lance McCullers. Combined, they shut out the Yankees on just three hits.

The Yankees were trying to become the first road team in over a decade to win Game 7 of a league championship series on the road. Instead their season ended in the same manner as their last trip to the playoffs, in 2015, when they were blanked by the Astros, 3-0, in a wild-card game.

The Yankees’ meager offense on Saturday continued a theme that ran through all four of their losses at Minute Maid Park in this series. They scored one run in Game 1, another in Game 2 and then one more in Game 6 on Friday night.

All three of those defeats came against Houston’s two aces — Dallas Keuchel, a longtime Yankee tormentor, and Justin Verlander, who boasts a rich playoff résumé. But in Game 7, the Yankees succumbed to Morton, a career journeyman, who held them to two hits through five innings, and to McCullers, who is normally the team’s No. 3 starter.

McCullers gave up a single to Brett Gardner, the first batter he faced, and allowed only one other base runner — Todd Frazier on a leadoff walk in the eighth. When center fielder George Springer squeezed a lazy fly ball by Greg Bird for the final out, McCullers leapt into McCann’s arms, and the Astros poured out of the dugout to celebrate the franchise’s second-ever trip to the World Series.

Throughout this A.L.C.S. there was outstanding defense, and Game 7 was no different.

Yankees right fielder Aaron Judge jumped at the wall to take a solo homer away from Yuli Gurriel in the second inning — the second home run Judge pilfered in the postseason.

Three innings later, with the Astros leading by 1-0, Houston third baseman Alex Bregman also stole a run. With one out and runners at the corners, he fielded Frazier’s chopper and fired right to McCann’s glove as Greg Bird slid into it. A less precise throw would not have gotten Bird, who was thrown out at the plate for the second time in this series.

As the Yankees were running out of outs, George Springer — whose leaping catch at the wall was the defining moment of Game 6 — sprang up again, vaulting over left fielder Marwin Gonzalez to catch Bird’s drive to the left-center field wall in the top of the seventh.

And while much was made of the Yankees’ vaunted bullpen, especially in contrast with the Astros’ shaky corps, it turned out to be not an advantage at all as this series played out.

Yankees relievers allowed more runs than their counterparts (11 to 9), and their most reliable arms were the ones that cost them. Closer Aroldis Chapman was beaten in Game 2 on a walkoff hit; David Robertson deprived the Yankees of a chance to rally when he was raked for four runs late in Game 6; and Tommy Kahnle could not keep the Yankees close on Saturday, allowing the Astros to stretch their lead from 1-0 to 4-0.

In losing Games 3, 4, and 5 at Yankee Stadium, the Astros became increasingly unnerved and looked overly anxious at the plate. It heartened their hitting coach, Dave Hudgens, that when they ended a 15-inning scoreless streak in Game 6, it was three walks that led to a three-run outburst.

“I think that relaxed everybody a little bit,” Hudgens said before Saturday’s game.

It did. In the fourth inning on Saturday, Gattis fought off three two-strike pitches from C. C. Sabathia, and crushed the eighth pitch of the at-bat, a slider he sent over the left-center field wall to break a scoreless tie.

In the fifth, Altuve hit a solo homer to right — this one beyond the reach of Judge — and punctuated the shot with a flip of his bat after he carried it nearly all the way to first base.

Correa and Gurriel followed with line singles to center and right, putting runners at first and second. After Kahnle struck out Gattis, McCann came to the plate. He saw five consecutive changeups from Kahnle. The last one, on a 2-2 pitch, arrived letter high, and McCann ripped it into the right-field corner, chasing home Correa and Gurriel and putting the Yankees in a 4-0 hole.

It the second consecutive game that McCann, who was traded by the Yankees to the Astros for a pair of low-level prospects last winter, had delivered a critical run-scoring double.

In a particularly painful twist, the Yankees are paying $ 5.5 million of McCann’s salary this year — and will do the same next season. The Yankees paid at least 15 players on their postseason roster less than they gave McCann this season.

It was the jettisoning last year of veterans like McCann — and another current Astro, Carlos Beltran — that ushered in the Yankees’ youth movement.

The Yankees hoped they would coalesce into a team that might experience a playoff chase in 2017, but they weren’t sure that would happen. It is why Cashman didn’t make a play for Chris Sale or any other top-tier starting pitcher last winter, saying the Yankees were not ready for a “back up the truck” deal.

But Judge and Luis Severino quickly emerged as stars this season. Gary Sanchez proved his scintillating final two months of 2016 were no illusion. Outfielder Aaron Hicks finally played to his talent level, while reliever Chad Green went from afterthought to Indispensable, the rookie pitcher Jordan Montgomery showed a veteran’s moxie and shortstop Didi Gregorius continued to blossom.

A scintillating start — the Yankees’ 21-9 record through May 8 was the best in baseball — established a determination that carried them through a midsummer funk and fueled a relentless pursuit of the American League East champion Boston Red Sox until the next-to-last day of the season.

Those experiences left the young Yankees hardened.

They rallied to beat Minnesota in the wild-card playoff game, came back from a two-games-to-none deficit in the division series to oust the Cleveland Indians — and bounced back from the same deficit against the Astros to advance to the doorstep of the World Series.

“We were trying to catch the Red Sox, and we never really had time to let up or set our rotation for the postseason and look forward at all,” left fielder Brett Gardner said late Friday night. “We were always living in the present and all the games, especially in September really, really important games, and it prepares young guys for the postseason. Guys that haven’t been in this situation before, they kind of have a better idea of what to expect.”

That preparation, though, turned out to be little help on Saturday night.