For the first time since the 1910s, that’s the pre-Babe Ruth era if you’re scoring at home, the New York Yankees have ended a decade without winning a single pennant. Much like how they started the decade in 2010, their season ended in the Lone Star State in Game 6 of the ALCS, this time to the Houston Astros. It was almost eerily reminiscent of that series, with the Yankees winning Game 1 on the road, a Game 3 loss to a pitcher they should’ve acquired in the past (Cliff Lee/Gerrit Cole), only winning one game at Yankee Stadium (also Game 5 with a big outing from their ace lefty CC Sabathia/James Paxton), and ultimately allowing six runs in a Game 6 loss. Brutal.
On the whole, it was a fun ride, as the Yankees scrapped, battled and fought through injuries and adversity. Yet, while 2017 was an unexpected joyride and 2018 ran into a buzzsaw, this season felt like a missed opportunity, especially when you’re expecting a World Series parade.
They said it was a rematch but save for Masahiro Tanaka, most of the main contributors were newcomers. Players not around in 2017 accounted for all seven runs in the 7-0 victory.
BABY’S BOTTLE OPENER
After a feeling-out process, one could tell the Yankees were “on” Zack Greinke. Greinke wasn’t about to be boogie man Dallas Keuchel or Charlie Morton and New York solved him in the fourth frame.
DJ LeMahieu set the table with a single to left and with Aaron Judge at the plate, would advance to second on a wild pitch. After Judge whiffed, Gleyber Torres busted an RBI-double to center for the 1-0 edge. The new No. 3 hitter was only warming up.
If Joe Buck wasn’t busy calling NFL games he’d realize Judge owns a howitzer in right-field. After Tanaka issued a leadoff free pass to Alex Bregman in the fifth, Yordan Alvarez lined a shot to Judge in right, who in turn fired to first and a nice pick by LeMahieu at first base to complete the double-play, caught the stumbling Bregman off guard.
In the sixth inning, the Bronx Bombers launched Greinke to the moon. Torres topped a one-out homer to left. Giancarlo Stanton delivered a two-out smash to right. The Yankees flexed their muscles for the 3-0 advantage.
The numbers and the eye test tell you all you need to know about Tanaka raising his game in October. Masa only needed 68 pitches to navigate through six scoreless innings. Tanaka fanned four and only allowed one hit and one walk. He became the first pitcher in history to yield two or fewer runs in each of first seven postseason starts.
To be fair, Ryan Pressly previously had some solid postseason numbers. Yet, in the seventh, the Yankees remembered him from his days with the Minnesota Twins. With two down, four straight singles capped off by a two-run single to center by Torres, increased the New York advantage to 5-0. G-baby became the youngest player in MLB history with five-RBI in a postseason contest.
HE WON 103 GAMES, SO…
Personally, I would’ve pushed Tanaka another inning and tried to prevent Astros’ hitters from getting more looks at my relievers. Yet, manager Aaron Boone carved out the rest of the game quite nicely.
Adam Ottavino appeared to relocate the zone and overcame the lone defensive miscommunication of the evening on a hit up the middle by Jose Altuve, by coaxing Bregman into an inning-ending double-play one pitch later.
Zack Britton and Jonathan Loaisiga, who, along with Ottavino, weren’t on the 2017 roster, pumped the ball into Gary Sanchez’s mitt for a scoreless eighth and ninth respectively.
The train conductor fell asleep and the Bronx Bombers carried their assault into the ninth. Facing Byran Abreu, Gio Urshela sent the first-pitch into orbit for the oppo-taco homer.
With one out, the Yankees mounted another rally to tack on the extra point. LeMahieu coaxed a walk and was singled to third by Judge, who also stole second. On a ground out to shortstop by Torres, LeMahieu darted home and scored the seventh run.
The box score will say the Yankees lost 3-2 in 11 innings but the momentum was lost in this one during the fifth inning. The Bronx Bombers delivered a body blow but the Astros were able to get back off the mat. Using nine pitchers and yielding three runs to the Astros’ offense in 11 innings actually isn’t too shabby considering but still not the result the Yankees wanted in the end.
PAX YOUR BAGS
James Paxton lasted about as long as someone riding a mechanical bull at a Houston bar. Tipping pitches or not, he looked tight, was bouncing pitches and fell off the bull.
During the second stanza, Paxton surrendered a single to Bregman and a walk to Alvarez. After a Yuli Gurriel line out to right advanced Bregman to third, Carlos Correa started to heat up with an RBI-double to left.
The Big Maple was able to stabilize and fan the next two batters and honestly, I thought that was it for his night.
Yet, Boone gave him the benefit of the doubt in the to start the third. The lefty struck out George Springer but allowed a pair of consecutive singles to Michael Brantley and Altuve before being lifted.
Granted Boone probably thought Paxton would give the club at least five frames but this is where extending Tanaka the prior evening may have been more beneficial to the bullpen but I digress.
Boone astutely went to Chad Green, who retired the next two hitters to extinguish the threat.
Much like their timing on Greinke, it looked like the Yankees would get to Justin Verlander the second time around and they did.
In the fourth frame, LeMahieu coaxed a leadoff free pass and Judge followed with a two-run blast to right-center, providing the Bronx Bombers a 2-1 edge. It was the closest to an early knockout blow as one would want.
Green kept cruising like Gang Green against the Dallas Cowboys earlier in the day.
During the fifth inning, Green fanned Tucker for the first out and with 26 pitched was pulled for Ottavino. Personally, I thought Boone would let Green pitch to Springer and use Tommy Kahnle and his changeup against the lefty-swinging Brantley. Alas, Boone called on Ottavino, who promptly had his first-pitch frisbee slider launched into a tree by Springer for the equalizer.
SHOULD I STAY OR SHOULD I GO?
New York was able to push Verlander against the ropes and on the cusp of 100 pitches in the sixth inning.
LeMahieu set the table with a single to center. Torres advanced him to second with a one-out single to left.
With two down, Gardner worked a seven-pitch at-bat in which he smashed a single off Altuve at second. The ball deflected and kicked out from Altuve but an alert Correa was able to recover the ball and make a perfect throw to cut down LeMahieu at the dish for the third out.
I would’ve liked it if they’d kept wearing down Verlander with the bases loaded but I suppose one can make the argument that the ensuing hitter Sanchez was struggling and you force Correa to make the perfect throw in that spot. Still, a tough high to a low spot in the game all in one play.
BUSH LEAGUE UMPIRING
As each bullpen held its own, the Yankees looked like they had a two-out rally going in the eleventh. Encarnacion drew a walk to force out Pressly.
Gardner followed with a single off Joe Smith, sending him to the showers as well.
Sanchez came to the plate against Josh James. On the ninth pitch of the at-bat, Sanchez swung and missed at a 1-2 slider in the dirt which was called a foul tip by the home plate umpire Cory Blaser. Sanchez wasn’t even close to ticking the ball. Yet, on the next pitch, the umpire was able to make matters worse with a called third strike to Sanchez, which was about three feet off the plate.
If we’re going to do makeup calls, can’t we go to the replay or robot umps already?
As Geroge Steinbrenner once opined about Jack McDowell after Game 5 of the 1995 ALDS, “he’s not a reliever!”
After J.A. Happ recorded the final two outs of the tenth to get the Yankees out of a jam, he lasted only one pitch into the eleventh, surrendering a walk-off blast to right by Correa.
It was a game of missed opportunities for the Yankees. The lineup was still missing Stanton, Torres was out of the three-hole for some reason and Ottavino was used in a high leverage spot again. The 4-1 loss was about as lethargic feeling as the 4 p.m. start time would suggest.
PUSHED THE SEVY TO THE LEVY
Luis Severino was not sharp early, laboring with 36 pitches in the first frame. Yet, all things considered, Severino rebounded quite nicely from surrendering solo shots to Altuve and Josh Reddick in the first and second innings respectively. Severino managed to keep the pinstripes within striking distance with 4.1 frames, fanning six, walking three and allowing five hits. Like a goalie who makes 50-saves, one can only do so much if your offense doesn’t produce.
Putting runners on wasn’t a problem for the pinstripes against Gerrit Cole, pushing them home however was a different story. New York managed to create traffic in the early going but overall went 0-for-6 with RISP and left nine on base despite coaxing five walks and collecting four hits. He certainly wasn’t alone in not coming through but a two-out ground out to second in the first, on the first pitch with the bases loaded and what looked like at first glance might be a two-out, three-run homer turned fly out to right in the fifth, were certainly deflating moments for Gregorius and the Yankees.
Britton entered and while Brantley reached on a fielder’s choice, Springer was erased in a rundown on the play. After an intentional walk to Bregman, Britton bounced a wild pitch to plate Altuve. A sac fly by Gurriel to plate Brantley would cap off the Houston output.
A GLEYBER DAY TOO LATE
Breaking the shutout and making history in the eighth against Joe Smith was Torres. Torres’ solo home run to right gave him AL records for most RBI (10) and most home runs (3) by a player under 23 in a single postseason. Pretty remarkable.
You’d like to think a rainout would help the Yankees regroup, especially with the repeat pitching matchup from Game 1. You’d be wrong. Neither starter made it out of the fifth inning. Chalk it up to sign-stealing but the pinstripes looked lethargic, going 0-for-7 with RISP, 13 K’s and four errors in a postseason contest for the first time since Game 2 of the 1976 World Series against the Cincinnati Reds. The 8-3 loss was a backbreaker.
ONE RUN, THAT’S ALL?!
New York managed to generate traffic and worked the bases-loaded against Greinke in the first frame. Yet, a Gardner RBI-walk was the sole extent of the damage.
They’d also pack the bases in the fifth but couldn’t muster a run. I mean, enough with the strikeouts, try some ground balls, they’re much more democratic, to borrow a line from the movie “Bull Durham.”
During the sixth inning, a LeMahieu error allowed Bregman to reach and signaled the end of Tanaka’s evening.
Green entered the contest as a virtual automatic fire extinguisher but the Astros even got to him. Following a Gurriel pop out, Alvarez singled to center and Correa crushed a three-run homer to left-center.
It would be too little too late but during the home half of the sixth, Sanchez followed a Gardner leadoff walk with a two-run tater to left-center off Josh James. This cut the lead in half but one can’t help but wonder if the Yankees had scored even a run more in the first and fifth if they could’ve rallied all the way back.
END OF THE LINE MELTDOWN
It got awful rocky for some former Rockies in the eighth. Agent zero Ottavino replaced Kahnle and surrendered a double to left to Bregman. The ensuing batter Gurriel reached on a fielding error by LeMahieu. That would be all for Ottavino.
CC Sabathia entered injury and all and tried to gut out the rest of the inning. Sabathia did his duty in getting Alvarez to ground to second but an error by Torres, who showed the bad side of only being 22, enabled Alvarez to reach and a run to score. After Correa lined out to right, Sabathia plunked Chirinos but rebounded to get Aldemys Diaz to fly out to Judge, who seemingly called off Torres, who would make another error in the ninth.
When Sabathia attempted to pitch to Springer, his shoulder wouldn’t allow him anymore. Sabathia had to exit the game, leaving it all out on the field in a tragically heroic fashion, the end to remarkable Hall of Fame career.
After appearing to experience some discomfort on the mound, CC Sabathia leaves the game. Yankees fans give him a standing ovation as he walks off the field. pic.twitter.com/rLf7v0vM5s
Loaisiga would fan Springer but would also allow another run in the ninth to cap off the Houston onslaught.
It was a contest all but decided during the first inning, as the Bronx Bombers kept their season alive with a 4-1 victory. It marked the first game in postseason history in which both clubs scored all of their runs in the first frame but did not score the rest of the way.
GETTING IT OUT OF THEIR SYSTEM
At first glance, it appeared as if the Yankees were experiencing carryover from the prior game. Springer reached on an infield single which evaded Paxton and Torres. A passed ball by Sanchez enabled Springer to scamper to second. Altuve’s groundout to shortstop advanced Springer. Following a walk to Brantley, a wild pitch by Paxton brought Springer sprinting home for a 1-0 edge. Yet, Paxton would stabilize.
OFF THE MAT AND OFF THE STICKS
I mean, the Rays jumped on Verlander with their backs against the wall, so, why not us? Setting the tone and allowing the Stadium crowd to erupt with joy, LeMahieu drilled an 0-1 fastball into the right-center seats for the equalizer.
The rally continued with a single to left by Judge and a double in the left-field corner by Torres. With one down, Hicks battled back from an 0-2 hole and cranked a full-count slider off the foul pole in right-field, providing the pinstripes with a 4-1 advantage. Hicks had that David Justice follow through and the Ken Griffey Jr. bat drop for good measure too. It was bedlam in the Bronx!
It was a good thing the Bronx Bombers pounced early, as Verlander settled in an got stronger with nine K’s and holding New York batters to a 1-for-21 clip from there out.
NEW PAX CITY
Paxton, who told ESPN’s Marly Rivera, “I have to attack these guys and go to battle for my team and give everything out there, just like CC did,” was clearly inspired to take the baton from the big man and the Big Maple responded.
The slender southpaw was dialed in, striking out the side in the second stanza and matching Verlander’s nine on the night. Paxton joined David “Boomer” Wells in 1998, as Yankees’ lefties with multiple starts of 8+ K’s in the same postseason.
Paxton tossed six stellar frames and was so fired up that he convinced Boone to allow him to throw pitch No. 112 for a flyout to left to retire Chirinos in the sixth.
The pinstripes bullpen finally got a smooth formula to the end. Kahnle worked 0.1 of an inning, Britton hurled 1.2 scoreless frames and hello Chapman, fired a scoreless frame to earn the save.
The Yankees battled but in the end, they didn’t quite have the horses and missed out on countless opportunities before tying the game and ultimately losing 6-4 on a walk-off home run by Altuve.
TOMATO CAN OPENER
This isn’t about Green but more of an indictment of the Yankees not acquiring another starting pitcher at some point (also no thanks to Domingo German and his alleged domestic abuse incident) and deploying the “Tampa Bay Rays opener/bullpening strategy” in an elimination game in the ALCS. Green was clearly gassed and gave it his all but the Astros were able to time him and Gurriel lined a three-run laser into the seats in the first frame.
Fortunately, the Astros employed a similar strategy but it seemed like A.J. Hinch used a quicker hook. Plucking away at Brad Peacock, Gregorius lined a two-out double to right field in the second stanza. Sanchez followed with an RBI-single to center.
Facing Jose Urquidy in the fourth frame, Urshela, who also sparkled at the hot corner, drilled a first-pitch fastball into the right-field seats for a solo shot.
With Kahnle on for his third consecutive contest in the sixth, you could tell he was already tired. After a leadoff walk to Altuve, Brantley singled to right, setting up runners at the corners.
The ensuing batter Bregman bounded a ball to Gregorius, who certainly had a play (or perhaps the Yankees should’ve drawn the infield in) at the plate but opted to flip to second but the Yankees couldn’t even complete the double play in lieu of letting the run score. It wasn’t a great evening for Gregorius, who grounded out on the first pitch with the bases loaded and two out in the third.
Kahnle also had to pitch around a third strike passed ball by Sanchez to Correa but was able to wiggle out of it at only a 4-2 deficit.
Thankfully, some solid defense by Judge would help keep the game close in the eighth.
DJLMVP BREAKS OSUNA
It was like an old school late 1990s at-bat when the Yankees would scrap and fight and ultimately break the opposing closer. Think Mark Wohlers, Trevor Hoffman, Rod Beck, John Rocker, Armando Benitez, Byung-Hyun Kim, etc.
In the ninth, Urshela set the table with a base knock to left.
With one out, LeMahieu fought off Roberto Osuna’s tenth pitch and launched it into the right-field seats for the equalizer at 4-4.
Chapman was on for the bottom of the ninth and started out well enough with a whiff of Maldanado. Yet, he lost the location of his fastball and the wheels fell off.
Chapman walked Springer and he probably should’ve walked Altuve as well.
Unable to spot his fastball and falling behind 2-0, Chapman dropped in a “get me over” slider for a strike. On the ensuing pitch, Chapman with zero confidence in his heater tried to double down on the “get me over” slider and let’s be honest, you’re not going to fool a former MVP like Altuve and he certainly did not. Altuve jumped on the second hanging slider and crushed it to San Antonio for the winner. Adios. Season over for the Yankees.