The New York Yankees were on the ropes, one punch away from being down for the count. The Astros were up 4-0 going to the bottom of the seventh inning and Lance McCullers Jr. was pitching a gem. Nine more outs and the Astros would be up 3-1 in the American League Championship Series with Dallas Keuchel on the mound for Game Five. Then McCullers surrendered a homer to Aaron Judge and in came the bullpen. The disaster that followed was reminiscent of one of the great Houston Oilers playoffs choke jobs.
The Astros lost the game, 6-4, and now hope to salvage a win in New York tomorrow before returning to Houston on Friday for Game Six.
AARON JUDGE: It has not been the best of playoffs for the probable AL Rookie of the Year. Until Tuesday evening. Judge’s seventh inning homer knocked McCullers from the game and made the score 4-1 in favor of the Astros. Judge hit a two-run double off closer Ken Giles in the eighth inning to tie the game at 4-4.
GARY SANCHEZ: The Yankees catcher has been having an even worse series than Judge. But his seventh inning sacrifice fly knocked in Didi Gregorius to make the score 4-2. Then he came up to bat in the eighth inning with the score tied 4-4 and two men on base. Sanchez connected on Ken Giles pitch to knock in the two runners and make the score 6-4.
YULI GURRIEL: The Astros offense has disappeared. But the Astros were able to load the bases in the sixth inning due to walks and a catcher’s interference. Gurriel came up to bat and laced a double to left field, scoring George Springer, Jose Reddick and Jose Altuve, giving the Astros what appeared to be an insurmountable 3-0 lead.
LANCE MCCULLERS JR.: McCullers pitched, without any doubt, his best game since June. He pitched six-plus innings, gave up two hits and one run, and was thoroughly dominating the Yankees batters. He gave up a home run to Aaron Judge to open the seventh inning, and was pulled from the game with the Astros up 4-1. This was exactly the performance the Astros were hoping for from McCullers.
DFAs (Designated for Assignment)
CARLOS CORREA: The Astros offense was dead on arrival, none more so than Correa. Correa was zero-for-four on the night. He struck out twice, and he stranded four runners.
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JOSE ALTUVE: Chase Headley singled to left field in the bottom of the eighth inning. He stumbled rounding first base, and it looked as if he was definitely going to be the first out of the inning. The Astros trapped him in a rundown. As he struggled to make it second base, a perfect throw came to Jose Altuve, but Altuve was positioned too far behind the base and was unable to make the tag on Headley. It would have been only the first out of the inning, and not the final out, but that one play epitomized more than anything the disaster that would become the eighth inning.
ASTROS OFFENSE: The Astros were not supposed to have to worry about a bad bullpen or a so-so rotation because the hitters were supposed to be able to hit any pitcher, and when a team routinely scores lots of runs, the pitchers do not have to be perfect. That has not been the case in this ALCS. Game Four saw the Astros generate just three hits, and they were very, very lucky to generate four runs, especially seeing as how the team was one-for-six with runners in scoring position.
ASTROS BULLPEN: Teams with good bullpens normally don’t blow 4-1 leads in the seventh inning of a playoff game. But the Astros bullpen has had severe difficulties throughout the season. Chris Devenski, Joe Musgrove, Ken Giles and Luke Gregerson gave up six hits and five runs in two innings. In the playoffs, the only two effective relievers for the Astros have been Collin McHugh and Justin Verlander which is bad because McHugh and Verlander are starting pitchers.
Wednesday afternoon’s ACLS Game Five is a rematch of Game One. Dallas Keuchel (Seven innings, four hits, and ten strikeouts) takes the mound against New York’s Masahiro Tanaka (Six innings, four hits, two runs, and three strikeouts). This is not a must-win game for the Astros — Justin Verlander has that role in Game Six should the Astros lose Game Five — but the Astros must find a way to halt the Yankee momentum and quiet the Yankee Stadium crowd.