Breaking down Game 2 of the AL Championship Series between the Houston Astros and New York Yankees at Minute Maid Park:
Astros 2, Yankees 1: Astros lead the series, 2-0.
The game: Justin Verlander stood tall for nine stellar innings and Carlos Correa drove in both Houston runs as the Astros took command of the series with a walk-off victory.
Correa sent Jose Altuve home with the game winner when he drilled a one-out double to right-center off Aroldis Chapman in the ninth.
Altuve, who had singled off Chapman for his second hit of the game, raced around the bases and slid in safely at home as catcher Gary Sanchez fumbled with the relay throw.
The Astros believed they were getting a co-ace and a postseason stud when they traded for Verlander on Aug. 31. He has been even better than they could have expected. The 2011 AL MVP was 7-0 with a 1.48 ERA in seven outings since joining Houston, including a first-ever relief appearance in Game 4 of the division series.
Saturday’s start was much more familiar territory, as were the results. Verlander gave up five hits and one run in nine innings while striking out 13.
His opposite number, Luis Severino, was nearly as effective over the first four innings, allowing Correa’s solo homer in the fourth homer but only one other hit before being replaced by Tommy Kahnle to open the fifth. Severino, who threw 62 pitches, was hit on the left arm by a Yuli Gurriel comebacker to end the fourth, but it wasn’t clear whether that had anything to do with his short stint.
The Astros got on the board when Correa drilled a 344-foot drive just over the fence in right. In shades of the Jeffrey Maier episode at Yankee Stadium in 1996, a young fan in the first row deflected the ball with his glove, but a quick replay review confirmed he did not interfere and the home run stood as the game’s first run.
The Yankees tied it in the fifth when, with two outs, Aaron Hicks and Todd Frazier cracked back-to-back doubles. Frazier’s drive to left-center got stuck on the cyclone fence beneath the C&D Scrap Metal sign, so he had to stop at second. Chase Headley lined out to end the inning.
State of the series: The Astros lead 2-0 after winning the first two games by the same score.
The series moves to Yankee Stadium for games 3-4-5, with veteran left-hander CC Sabathia taking the mound for New York on Monday opposite Charlie Morton. Sabathia, 37. enjoyed a career revival as he went 14-5 with a 3.69 ERA, his lowest since 2012, and pitched well in the division series. However, he did not fare as well at home as on the road, registering a 4.20 ERA at Yankee Stadium and 3.18 elsewhere. He has not faced the Astros this year.
Morton, 33, won a career-high 14 games with a 3.62 ERA in his first season in Houston and gave up two runs in 4 1/3 innings in his Game 4 start in the division series. The Yankees tagged him for four runs in 5 2/3 innings when he faced them May 14, but he did strike out 10.
Man of the moment: Verlander. At 34, the 13-year veteran summoned the spirit of his childhood idol Nolan Ryan – now an Astros executive advisor – and overpowered the Yankees lineup. It wasn’t just Verlander’s 13 strikeouts that had the sellout crowd of 43,193 on its feet as he walked off the mound in the eighth, but the fact he had fanned seven of the last 10 batters he faced.
After the back-to-back doubles in the fifth, Verlander allowed only two batters to reach base. With his pitch count at 109 – 83 of them strikes – Verlander came out to face the heart of the Yankees order in the ninth and gave up a single to Didi Gregorius before completing the inning, preserving the 1-1 tie.
Manager’s special: With a powerful bullpen that had all its pitchers except Chad Green fully rested, Yankees manager Joe Girardi relied on his relievers early. He brought in Tommy Kahnle in the fifth and was rewarded with two hitless innings. David Robertson replaced Kahnle and threw two scoreless innings himself.
Chapman took over in the ninth and disaster ensued.
Pivot point: Right fielder Josh Reddick, a Gold Glover in 2012 with the Oakland Athletics, helped keep the Yankees off the board with two defensive plays in the third inning of what was then a scoreless game.
Reddick may have stolen a home run from Headley as he crashed against the right field fence to corral a drive that seemed destined for the front row of seats. Verlander clapped in appreciation and was nearly as happy when his teammates turned another hard-hit ball by the next batter, Brett Gardner, from a double into an inning-ending out. Gardner was thrown at third trying to stretch his hit.
Needing a mulligan: Gardner. When his hit reached the right-field corner, the leadoff man took a chance of breaking the long-held maxim against making the final out of an inning at third, and he sped around for one more base. Reddick retrieved the ball quickly and got it to the strong-armed Correa, whose one-hop throw did not beat Gardner, according to umpire Jerry Meals.
Third baseman Alex Bregman begged to differ and pointed to his team’s dugout for a review, which overturned the call. Judge was left on the on-deck circle, his chance for an RBI killed by Gardner’s mistake.
What you missed on TV: The Astros were so sure Gardner was out at third, all of them left the field before the safe call was reversed by replay review for the third out.
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