HOUSTON — Breaking down Game 6 of the AL Championship Series between the Houston Astros and New York Yankees at Minute Maid Park:
Astros 7, Yankees 1: Series tied, 3-3.
The game: Justin Verlander shut down the potent Yankees offense once again and Jose Altuve had three RBI, contributing to both of Houston’s big innings, as the Astros forced a decisive Game 7 for the right to face the Los Angeles Dodgers in the World Series.
The home team has won every game in this series, which concludes Saturday night.
Verlander overwhelmed the New York hitters over the first five innings, then pitched out of two jams before exiting with another sparkling line: seven innings pitched, five hits, zero runs and eight strikeouts. He gave up one run in a Game 2 victory.
Brad Peacock and Ken Giles got the final six outs as the Astros bullpen stepped up after several shaky outings. The Astros broke the game open with a four-run eighth to make life easier for Giles. Houston had scored nine runs total in the first five games.
Peacock did serve up a homer to Aaron Judge in the top of the eighth, but Houston got that run back and then some when Altuve led off the bottom half with a homer and the Astros poured it on against David Robertson and Dellin Betances.
Brian McCann and Altuve supplied the key hits in a three-run fifth. Yankees starter Luis Severino looked untouchable over the first four innings, yielding a Carlos Correa single and nothing else as he overpowered the Astros with 100 mph heat. But Severino suddenly lost the plate in the fifth, walking two of the first three batters to give Houston its first opportunity.
Astros hitters were 4-for-27 with runners in scoring position in the series to that point, and McCann was still seeking his first hit in 11 at-bats. He crushed a ground-rule double to right that broke the ice, and two batters later Altuve ripped his two-RBI single to put Houston ahead 3-0.
State of the series: It’s tied 3-3, sending the Astros to just the second Game 7 in their history and the Yankees to their umpteenth one. Houston lost Game 7 of the 2004 ALCS to the St. Louis Cardinals but reached its first World Series the next year.
CC Sabathia, who looked rejuvenated in a 14-5 season and threw six shutout innings in Game 3, will make the 22nd postseason start of his career for New York on Saturday.
Astros manager A.J. Hinch would not discuss before the game who he’ll send out to the mound, but his options will likely come down to Charlie Morton on full rest and Lance McCullers on three-days’ rest.
Morton gave up seven runs in 3 2/3 innings in Monday’s 8-1 rout, while McCullers yielded just two hits and a run in six innings the next night. However, McCullers dealt with a back injury and a tired arm this season and the Astros may be reluctant to expose the 24-year-old right-hander to any risk.
Man of the moment: Verlander. The 13-year veteran has thrown the only complete game during this postseason, in a 2-1 victory in Game 2, and has been unbeatable in a Houston uniform. Since being acquired in an Aug. 3 trade, he’s 9-0 with a 1.23 ERA, including a 4-0 mark and 1.46 ERA in the playoffs.
If the Astros win this series, Verlander is the clear-cut MVP.
Manager’s special: With Verlander at 99 pitches and running out of gas, Hinch turned to his vulnerable bullpen and promptly saw the lead get cut to 3-1 when Judge pounded one of his trademark monster homers to center. But Peacock finished the inning without any more harm done and Giles took care of the ninth.
Needing a mulligan: Judge. The MVP candidate has had a fine series, hitting three homers – including a solo shot in the eighth – driving in seven runs and making some excellent plays in right field. But the strikeouts have continued to pile up, and his two whiffs Friday gave him 26 for the playoffs, tying the postseason record set by Alfonso Soriano in 2003.
In addition, Judge bounced into a double play right after Brett Gardner opened the game with a single, although it took a nice play by Correa at shortstop to get it started. Of course, Judge did hit another titanic home run, so he’s not exactly struggling.
Pivot point: There were two before the Astros iced the game in the eighth.
The Yankees were trying to dig out of a 3-0 hole and had their first runner in scoring position all night in the sixth when Didi Gregorius followed Chase Headley’s leadoff single with a two-out single. Gary Sanchez worked the count to 3-0 and, with the Crawford Boxes a mere 315 feet away, was in position to tie the game without even having to barrel the ball. Alas, Sanchez couldn’t hold his swing on a 3-0 changeup, and his meek grounder to short killed the threat.
In the seventh, New York got its first two batters on base against a flagging Verlander when, after Aaron Hicks worked him for a 10-pitch at-bat before striking out, Todd Frazier sent a drive to the deepest part of the ballpark in center. Center fielder George Springer tracked and caught the ball at the fence with jump – it likely would not have left the yard – and Chase Headley bounced out to allow the 43,179 in attendance to breathe again.
What you missed on TV: Astros pitcher Joe Musgrove standing shoulder-to-shoulder with basketball Hall of Famer Clyde Drexler after catching his ceremonial first pitch. The 6-7 Drexler, who won an NBA title with the Houston Rockets in 1995, typically towers over everyone around him, but Musgrove stands 6-5.