NEW YORK (AP) Cameron Maybin sprinted toward the left-field line and suddenly stopped, with plenty of room to spare.
As he wind-milled one arm to halt his momentum, a flummoxed Maybin curiously backed off the ball as if scared by a spider and watched Greg Bird’s pop fly land in fair territory just a step or two away. The ball bounded into the stands for a ground-rule double that started a five-run rally .
”I was thinking if I do dive for it and miss, it’s going to be a triple,” Maybin said. ”Just a long run and it was coming down fast. Just one of those weird plays that the game will throw at you.”
All night long, Maybin and the Houston Astros looked completely out of sorts at Yankee Stadium.
Bloopers, bleeders and infield singles did in starter Charlie Morton – not to mention a pair of three-run homers that barely cleared the fence. And after executing so impeccably back home, the Astros were routed 8-1 by the New York Yankees on Monday in a lopsided defeat that shaved Houston’s lead to 2-1 in the AL Championship Series.
”We knew it was not going to be easy,” shortstop Carlos Correa said.
Game 4 is Tuesday in the Bronx, and Houston picked Lance McCullers Jr. over Brad Peacock to pitch against Yankees right-hander Sonny Gray.
Peacock went 13-2 with a 3.00 ERA this season but lasted only 2 2/3 innings at Boston in Game 3 of the Division Series. McCullers, an All-Star in July, finished 7-4 with a 4.25 ERA but hasn’t started since Sept. 30 or won since June 24.
”He’s a really good pitcher. He’s got really electrifying stuff,” manager A.J. Hinch said. ”He has some of the best stuff in the big leagues and we believe in him.”
McCullers was sidelined from July 31 to Sept. 6, his second stint on the disabled list this year due to lower back discomfort. He made his first career relief appearance against the Red Sox in the playoff game Peacock started.
Hinch said McCullers had ”a really good bullpen” after that outing.
”I’ve been feeling like myself a lot more lately,” said McCullers, who won 5-1 at Yankee Stadium on May 12. ”I’m excited to get the ball.”
But if the Astros don’t want to squander the 2-0 series advantage they built in Houston behind 2-1 wins from aces Dallas Keuchel and Justin Verlander, they’ll need to get comfortable in the Big Apple – fast.
That’s easier said than done. New York went 51-30 at home during the regular season, the best mark in the American League, and is 4-0 at Yankee Stadium during these playoffs.
”We’re somewhat built for this ballpark,” manager Joe Girardi said.
Plus, these Baby Bombers have been hard to put away: They already came back from an 0-2 deficit to dethrone AL champion Cleveland in the best-of-five Division Series.
Houston, two wins from its second World Series appearance, hasn’t dropped consecutive games since Sept. 9-10 at Oakland.
Morton grew up a Yankees fan in Connecticut and on Sunday fondly recalled visiting the old Stadium across 161st Street and getting Girardi’s autograph at spring training when the New York manager was still playing.
But in his third career playoff start, the 33-year-old righty found the current confines entirely unfriendly.
Starlin Castro got New York started with a two-out roller toward third that went for an infield single in the second. Aaron Hicks dumped a soft single into left-center and Todd Frazier took an awkward swing on a three-run homer to the short porch in right.
”I’m not even sure that was a strike,” Hinch said. ”He did that in Houston with the one-arm swing that went up in the left-center-field wall in our place. Obviously a strong man, right place in the ballpark. The ball popped off his bat. I was surprised that ball went out.”
The drive only traveled a projected 365 feet and appeared to be aided by the wind.
”That was unbelievable. Good piece of hitting,” Morton said. ”I knew he put the barrel on it and that spot out there is dangerous.”
Bird blooped his double to begin the fourth and, two outs later, scored on Chase Headley’s bouncer into a vacated spot at second base. The infield single made it 4-0, and Morton was removed after hitting Brett Gardner with a pitch to load the bases.
”Charlie had a lot of bad luck tonight,” Hinch said.
Will Harris threw a wild pitch that allowed a run to score, and Aaron Judge lined a three-run homer 371 feet into the front row of left-field seats to make it 8-0.
With that, this one was over early. Houston mustered only four hits against CC Sabathia and three relievers, scoring its lone run on a bases-loaded walk by Alex Bregman in the ninth.
One bright spot: Collin McHugh saved the bullpen by tossing four hitless innings.
”We just couldn’t get back in the game,” Hinch said. ”Obviously, two big innings that really did us in.”
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