HOUSTON — Who told The Savages to be civil?
OK, that was Justin Verlander doing his thing against the Yankees on Sunday night at Minute Maid Park, and the Astros’ relief corps hardly features a bunch of chumps. Nevertheless, the major league’s most productive offense must do more to get its franchise back to the World Series for the first time since 2009.
This American League Championship Series is tied, courtesy of Carlos Correa’s 11th-inning, walk-off homer against J.A. Happ that handed the Yankees a 3-2 loss in Game 2. While Aaron Boone displayed his newfound aggressiveness in fine fashion, lifting James Paxton with one out in the third inning when it became apparent to all that the Big Maple was sour despite trailing by a mere 1-0 margin, his bullpen ultimately fell short to its rival unit because the Yankees could do nothing offensively besides Aaron Judge’s two-run, fourth-inning homer off Verlander.
“I mean, it was a struggle tonight,” Boone said. “They are the Houston Astros and they’re tough to score runs off, especially on a night when Verlander is out there. So they held us down tonight and that’s going to happen.
“We know this isn’t going to be an easy series by any means. But over time, I’ll take our guys and their approach, and tonight they just did a better job of holding us down.”
The “Savages” nickname took off for the Yankees after Boone described his hitters as such in a rant to an umpire that spread on social media courtesy of the amazing @Jomboy_. It never would’ve stuck had the Yankees put up more games like this one. Fresh off a 7-0 pounding of the Astros in Game 1, the Yankees managed only six hits and three walks in 11 innings and managed to create only three at-bats with runners in scoring position, of which they tabbed one hit. They stranded seven base runners.
“We had some chances there, some guys on base throughout the game, and weren’t able to come through with the big hit,” Brett Gardner said.
Two plays stood out. In the sixth, with men on first and second and two outs and the game knotted at 2-2, Gardner hit a hard grounder off Astros second baseman Jose Altuve, and third base coach Phil Nevin waved home a motoring DJ LeMahieu. Unfortunately for the Yankees, the ball ricocheted very close to Correa, Houston’s shortstop, who picked it up and whipped it home to nail LeMahieu easily for the third out.
“I thought it skipped off further, and [it] was an absolute send from where I was standing — I’m right behind third base there,” Boone said.
“Great heads-up play by Correa to be in that position, to catch it clean, and then obviously with his arm to throw a strike home. So I had no issue with the play at all.”
“Everyone was saying, ‘I think it’s the right call,’” LeMahieu said of the send. “[Correa] made a good play on it.”
In the top of the 11th, Gary Sanchez, already 0-for-4 on the night, came up with Yankees on first and second and two outs. He battled Astros reliever Josh James, and home-plate umpire Cory Blaser presented a huge gift to Sanchez when he ruled the ninth pitch a foul tip; replays showed that Sanchez swung and missed the pitch by about a foot. Alas, Blaser called the next pitch, seemingly outside by a good amount, Strike 3.
Asked whether he considered it a makeup call, a frustrated Sanchez, through an interpreter, said, “Maybe. I don’t know. Maybe [Blaser] figured to make an adjustment.”
Tied at 1-1 with the series headed back to The Bronx for Tuesday afternoon’s Game 3 against the dominant Gerrit Cole, it’s the Yankees who must make the adjustment. Their fourth, fifth and sixth hitters — Edwin Encarnacion, Gardner and Sanchez — have a combined three hits in 26 at-bats.
“They’ve got a team full of good arms over there,” Gardner said. “[The] same can be said for us.”
Back in their abode, The Savages must find their best selves very soon.
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