HOUSTON (AP) Another solid postseason outing for Masahiro Tanaka, an impressive two-out hit for Aaron Judge and yet still another loss in the AL Championship Series for the New York Yankees.
New York was stifled again by nemesis Dallas Keuchel, but at least this defeat to the Astros wasn’t a one-and-done playoff game like two years ago.
The Yankees dropped their sixth straight ALCS game Friday night, this time 2-1 at Houston in Game 1.
”We get down early in games or gotten down early in series. … Nothing changes. The mindset is still the same,” Judge said. ”Go out there and keep competing and having quality at-bats, and we will be where we want to be in this series.”
Houston did all of its damage against Tanaka in a four-batter span during the fourth inning, when the Astros got three of their four hits off the Japanese right-hander and scored both of their runs .
”Other than that, he was pounding the strike zone, he was working his pitches well,” Judge said. ”We weren’t able to get any support for him.”
New York’s best chance of scoring off Keuchel came with two on and two outs in the fifth when slugging rookie Judge – already with a walk and his 17th strikeout in the playoffs – came back from a 1-2 count and lined a full-count pitch into left field. It was only Judge’s fourth hit in 27 at-bats this postseason.
But Greg Bird, trying to score from second, was out on a perfect throw from left fielder Marwin Gonzalez to Brian McCann, the catcher who was with the Yankees two years ago when they lost at home to Keuchel in the 2015 AL wild-card game.
”If Bird’s safe maybe we really get to him in that inning, but he wasn’t,” manager Joe Girardi said.
The tag was made in a cloud of dust, and plate umpire Chad Fairchild called Bird out on a bang-bang play.
”Too slow, I wish I was a little faster,” Bird said.
At least there will be no second-guessing Girardi this time. The manager did ask for a replay challenge, though Bird was still out after the review.
”Well, we thought he was out,” Girardi said. ”But God knows I’m not doing that again.”
In Game 2 of the AL Division Series against Cleveland a week ago, when the Yankees were leading by five runs, Girardi opted against asking for a replay challenge of a pivotal hit-by-pitch call prior to a grand slam that trimmed the margin to 8-7 in the sixth inning. Cleveland won 9-8 in 13 innings, putting New York down 2-0 in that best-of-five series.
Keuchel struck out 10 while allowing four singles in his seven innings, improving to 6-2 with a 1.06 ERA in eight career starts against the Yankees when counting the postseason.
Bird did score in the ninth with his third postseason homer, pulling a two-out shot down the right-field line off closer Ken Giles.
The Yankees were swept in their previous ALCS by Detroit in 2012. Their last championship series victory came in Game 5 against Texas in 2010 before the Rangers clinched the pennant in the next game.
Luis Severino, the 23-year-old right-hander who went seven innings for his first postseason victory in Game 4 of the ALDS last Monday, starts the second game against the Astros on Saturday.
Tanaka went six innings and was solid aside from the fourth. Jose Altuve, the 5-foot-6 major league batting leader and front-runner with Judge to be the AL MVP, got the first of his three hits with an infield single through Tanaka’s legs with one out. That was also the Astros’ first hit.
After stealing second base, Altuve scored on Carlos Correa’s single to left. A grounder got Correra to second before Yuli Gurriel’s RBI single made it 2-0.
The Astros had only one more baserunner after that off Tanaka, who has never beaten them. He is 0-1 with an 8.38 ERA in three regular-season appearances (two starts) against them and was in a postseason rematch against Keuchel.
”You go out and do what you need to do,” Tanaka said through an interpreter. ”You focus on executing the pitches that you need to make.”
Tanaka pitched seven scoreless innings in ALDS Game 3 last Sunday when the Yankees were facing elimination before a 1-0 victory. He struck out seven, walked one and gave up three hits in that game.
And he expects to start another ALCS game.
”Very confident,” Tanaka said. ”I believe that we will come back.”
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