HOUSTON – They have a problem.
The Yankees were no match once again for the Houston star named after that other Texas town, as puzzling lefty Dallas Keuchel continued his career-long domination of the Bombers with seven scoreless innings to send the Yankees to a 2-1 loss to the Astros in Game 1 of the AL Championship Series on Friday night at Minute Maid Park. Greg Bird hit a solo homer with two outs in the ninth to account for the Yankees’ only run.
The Yanks fell behind for the second straight postseason series this October, with Luis Severino slated to oppose Justin Verlander on Saturday in Game 2.
Joe Girardi notably lost his first replay challenge since infamously declining to ask for a review on a foul tip into catcher Gary Sanchez’s mitt in Game 2 of the AL division series in Cleveland. That gaffe led to a 9-8 giveaway loss and an 0-2 series deficit, before the Bombers redeemed their manager by clawing back to take the next three games.
With longtime Bronx postseason stalwart and local resident Andy Pettitte in attendance, the Yanks sent out Masahiro Tanaka for his first start since he’d tossed seven scoreless innings in their season-extending 1-0 victory in Game 3 of the ALDS.
Dallas Keuchel threw seven scoreless innings.
Tanaka was up to the duty of matching zeroes early with Keuchel, the 2015 Cy Young winner who had knocked out the Yanks in that year’s AL wild-card game in the only previous postseason meeting between these two franchises.
Tanaka coughed up two runs in the fourth inning but no more in departing with a two-run deficit after six, allowing four hits but striking out only two batters.
Keuchel, whom ex-Yankee Alex Rodriguez once dubbed “Greg Maddux from the left side with a little better slider,” tossed seven scoreless frames, yielding four hits while striking out 10, a postseason best for his career.
Meanwhile, the Astros’ high-powered lineup hit several balls on the nose against Tanaka in his first three scoreless frames, but they did not reach for a hit off the Japanese righty until Jose Altuve’s infield single behind second base with one out in the fourth.
Masahiro Tanaka gave up two runs in six innings pitched.
Altuve heard chants of “MVP” all night from the home crowd in his first playoff meeting with the Yanks own MVP award candidate Aaron Judge. He promptly stole second base and scored on a single to left in the fourth by Carlos Correa, who sprinted home later in the inning.
PLAY OF THE GAME
It could be Gonzalez’s throw, but we’ll go with Jose Altuve, Houston’s 5-foot-6 All-Star second baseman, who needed every inch to make an acrobatic, diving stab of Gregorius’ one-hop shot to his right and threw him out at first for the second out of the fourth inning.
Aaron Judge extended his postseason skid since the start of the ALDS to 1-for-21 with 17 strikeouts with a walk and a whiff in his first two plate appearances. The Yanks’ rookie MVP candidate then laced a single to left with two runners aboard in the fifth, but it was for naught when Greg Bird was nailed at the plate by Marwin Gonzalez for third out.
STAR OF THE GAME
Keuchel already came into the game with the lowest ERA of any pitcher in history with at least 50 innings (postseason included) against the Yankees. The ace lefty lowered that figure to a miniscule 1.09 (seven earned runs in 57.2 innings) with seven scoreless frames.
Yankees vs. Astros 2017 American League Championship Series
STAT OF THE GAME
17. This marked the Yankees’ 17th appearance in LCS history, the most in major-league history since the playoffs were added in 1969.
Keuchel became the first Houston pitcher and only the eighth hurler in MLB history to win each of his first four postseason starts – and the first to do it since St. Louis’ Michael Wacha in 2013.
Bird, who underwent ankle surgery in July, got a slow jump off second base in a full-count running situation and didn’t do enough to avoid Brian McCann’s tag at the plate on Gonzalez’s throw from left to end the 4th. He did homer in 9th, however, but this came too little too late.
Altuve did a little bit of everything, as usual, rapping three singles, stealing a base, scoring a run and making one of the best defensive plays of the night. The three-time AL batting champion is hitting .579 (11-for-19) during this postseason.
Brian McCann tags out Greg Bird at the plate.
(David J. Phillip/AP)
Everyone has been fixated on Judge’s numbers during the postseason, but Yanks All-Star catcher Gary Sanchez went 0-for-3 with a walk and three strikeouts after also fanning that many times in Game 5 against Cleveland. He is 1-for-12 with eight Ks in his past three games.
QUOTE OF THE DAY
“God knows I’m not doing that again.” — Joe Girardi on why he challenged Greg Bird being thrown out at home.
Saturday, ALCS Game 2 at Houston, 4:08 p.m. TV: FOX
RHP Justin Verlander (2-0, 3.12 in playoffs) vs. RHP Luis Severino (1-0, 7.36)