Knock the Yankees all you’d like, but you can’t fight facts: The Yankees have now defeated the Astros in two straight home playoff games.
OK, technically, that’s fake news, as Tuesday night in The Bronx qualified as mere regular-season action. Nevertheless, this highly anticipated contest, in living up to its hype, certainly felt like the postseason. And the Yankees, kings of October heartbreak for the past decade, came up big.
Biggest win of the season, no doubt, in their biggest game of 2021.
By outlasting Houston, 7-3, in these rivals’ first meeting since 2019 American League Division Series Game 6, the Yankees did more than exact a tiny slice of vengeance for that series defeat as well as the 2017 ALCS, during which the Astros, as per Rob Manfred’s findings, illegally stole signs. As they try to establish firmer footing after a horrid start, they held their own — with an assist from their energized, profane fans — against arguably the toughest opponent they’ve faced this season.
“Fun night to play the game,” Aaron Boone said.
Yes, Yankee Stadium rocked like we haven’t seen it in a very long time, the sellout crowd 10,850 punishing the Astros all night long, with a determined focus on Jose Altuve; “I wouldn’t want to be on the other side of that,” Giancarlo Stanton said. It made you yearn for a time when a true sellout can fill ballparks again (get vaccinated, people!). It made you see that the Yankees, for all their much-discussed shortcomings, might be all right. By lifting their record to 15-14 with their fourth straight win, they went above .500 for the first time since they stood at 3-2 on April 6.
“At the end of the day, we need to take care of business,” DJ LeMahieu said. “I thought we did a really good job of that.”
They pulled it off thanks partly to some good fortune, as LeMahieu’s bases-loaded, two-out, sixth-inning slow grounder to prime fan target Alex Bregman cleared those bases, breaking a 3-3 tie, when Bregman threw wildly to first base; the third run, Rougned Odor, departed the game after his left knee collided with the head of Houston catcher Martin Maldonado (who also left).
“One of those lucky, well-placed hits,” LeMahieu said.
They say that luck is the residue of design, though, and the Yankees loaded the bases all on their own against Astros relievers Brandon Bielak and Bryan Abreu, and LeMahieu put the ball in play, as he tends to do. Their starting pitcher Domingo German — who uncharacteristically revved up the fans as he walked to the bullpen pregame — hung tough against the Astros’ fearsome offense, allowing three runs in five gritty innings. Stanton continued his hottest run as a Yankee, contributing a homer (109.4 miles per hour), a double (117.4 mph) and two singles (109.9 and 88.7) and driving home three runs.
“He hits the crap out of the ball every time,” LeMahieu said.
And Gleyber Torres, whose defense earlier this season drew criticism from many corners including this one, initiated a pair of sharp, 6-5-3 double plays late in the game, the first one (in the sixth) beginning with a diving stop of a Yordan Alvarez grounder up the middle.
Very impressive, all around.
“You have games every now and then in the regular season that feel big, that feel important,” Boone said. “Obviously, with the crowd engaged as it was at the outset, I’d be lying if I told you we didn’t have an extra level of energy.”
That energy converted into excellence, the thirst for vengeance — “You relive those moments, the disappointment, the controversies that transpired,” Stanton acknowledged — into execution.
“We’re getting there, we’re getting there,” Boone said of his team’s play, and they have to keep going long and hard before they can let up. Yet these Yankees, who did defeat the Astros here in 2019 ALCS Game 5, can start to feel confident again, and supported and loved by their fans. You score points, after all, when you settle scores.