2018-05-02 02:59:03
Yankees 4, Astros 0: After Justin Verlander Steps Aside, Yankees Break Through in Houston

02:59, May 02 21 0

HOUSTON — The Yankees didn’t come any closer to solving Justin Verlander than they did last October. But they didn’t need to.

Thanks to a group bullpen effort led by Domingo German, the Yankees survived both an early injury exit by Jordan Montgomery and Verlander’s dominance. Once Verlander had departed after eight scoreless innings, Gary Sanchez blasted a monstrous three-run, ninth-inning homer that carried the Yankees to a 4-0 victory over the Houston Astros.

The victory ended a seven-game losing streak here — including all four games of the American League Championship Series last October — and was the first time in the Yankees’ last six games at Minute Maid Park that they managed to score more than a single run.

They rarely came close against Verlander, who was every bit as dominant as he was in beating the Yankees twice in the playoffs. He tied a career high with 14 strikeouts, allowed just three hits and did not walk a batter in eight innings. He retired the final 16 batters he faced after Didi Gregorius reached with a two-out bunt single in the third inning, and he struck out Brett Gardner with his 105th and final pitch. It extended his scoreless streak against the Yankees to 19⅓ innings.

“After that last strikeout of Gardner, I was walking off the mound thinking that might be it,” said Verlander, who did not try to talk Astros Manager A.J. Hinch into letting him throw another inning. “That mental, 30-second break, I didn’t think it was right to re-engage and go back out there. I thought about it for a minute; I thought it was the right call.”

It had to be a relief for the Yankees to see him depart. And they greeted Ken Giles — the Astros closer who had struck out the heart of the order to close out Monday’s victory and entered Tuesday’s game having retired 21 consecutive batters — with equal relief, and plenty of hitting.

Aaron Judge lined a single to right and Gregorius followed by looping a double into left-center, sliding into second just ahead of the throw from left fielder Marwin Gonzalez.

With the infield drawn in, Giles bounced back to strike out Giancarlo Stanton. Pitching coach Brent Strom then paid a visit to see if Giles wanted to walk Sanchez or pitch to him. Giles, who struck out Sanchez looking at a full count fastball on Monday night, did not want to back down.

Strom was barely back in the dugout in time to have any regrets.

Sanchez crushed the first pitch — a hanging slider high over the center field wall.

“Hung that first pitch and Gary was ready,” Yankees Manager Aaron Boone said. “Big-time swing.”

Said Sanchez, speaking through an interpreter: “I was looking for something I could hit and he left something there for me.”

After giving up the knockout blow, Giles delivered one — to himself. When he exited the game one batter later, after giving up a single to Aaron Hicks, Giles punched himself in the face as he stepped down the dugout steps and slammed a bat to the ground.

The victory put a sheen on what could turn out to be costly night, as Montgomery left after one inning with what he said was tightness in his forearm, just below his left elbow. He will return to New York on Wednesday where he will undergo a magnetic resonance imaging exam and be examined by the team doctor, Christopher Ahmad.

On a scale of 1 to 10, Montgomery said his level of concern was at three.

“It’s tight and we’re just going to go find out,” Boone said. “Hopefully it’s something minor. Monty’s in a pretty good frame of mind.”

Montgomery, 25, was 2-0 start this year with a 3.76 earned run average in five starts before Tuesday.

He breezed through the first inning, retiring George Springer and Carlos Correa on fly balls, sandwiched around a groundout by Jose Altuve. But when Montgomery returned to the dugout, pitching coach Larry Rothschild — after observing that his fastball was between 88 and 90 miles per hour, about five ticks below normal — asked if he was O.K.

When Montgomery mentioned the tightness, the Yankees wanted to take no chances.

German, who threw four scoreless innings of relief, yielding four hits and one walk to go with four strikeouts, is the leading candidate to replace Montgomery if he heads to the disabled list as expected.

German showed no sign of nerves on Tuesday. After he walked Correa and gave up a single to Yuli Gurriel to begin the fourth, he retired Alex Bregman on a fly ball to right and turned a comebacker from Marwin Gonzalez into a 1-6-3 double play.

And after Jake Marisnick’s two-out blooper dropped between Judge, second baseman Gleyber Torres and first baseman Tyler Austin in the fifth, German dispatched Springer who chased a 3-2 slider.

“He doesn’t flinch,” Boone said of German. “He just keeps making pitches.”

Chad Green, Dellin Betances and David Robertson all followed and kept the Astros at bay, something they needed to do with Verlander on the mound.

As happened last October, the right-handed Verlander got stronger as the game progressed.

The Yankees put a runner in scoring position just once — when Sanchez led off the second inning with a single and one out later, moved up to second on Miguel Andujar’s single. But Verlander struck out Austin — who returned Tuesday from a four-game suspension for fighting — and Torres.

It was the only time the Yankees threatened — until Verlander was safely out of the way.