by Stuart Kirsch
New York, NY—After a split of the first two games of the ALCS in Houston, Astros ace Gerrit Cole took to the Yankee Stadium mound without his best stuff. The major league leader in strikeouts this season, with 326, failed to record double-digit strikeouts for the first time since August 1. Although he didn’t have his best control, he did control the potent New York offense; walking five and scattering four hits, and keeping the Yanks scoreless over seven innings while earning his third win of this postseason. The Astros jumped on Luis Severino with solo bombs in the first and second innings by Jose Altuve and Josh Reddick as Cole avoided danger. Houston added two more runs in the seventh on a wild pitch and a sacrifice fly before Gleyber Torres ended the shutout in the eight for the 4-1 final.
Control on Wednesday night’s scheduled game four fell to Mother Nature, dousing the Bronx with rain and forcing the series to resume on Thursday. The delay was seen as a boon to both teams, as each team had been considering an opener and bullpen day. Both teams chose to go to their game one starters in a rematch on five days’ rest: Masahiro Tanaka versus Zack Greinke. Tanaka had shut down the Astros in the 7-0 Yankee series opening victory, allowing only one hit and one walk in six dominant innings.
Greinke staked the Yanks to a one-run lead in the first, loading the bases with two walks and a single, and then walking in a run before getting out of the jam. But the Astros’ bats came to life in the third off Tanaka, highlighted by a George Springer three-run blast. Greinke got into another jam in the fifth and was pulled for Ryan Pressly; the goat from Game 1 walked the bases loaded before fanning two and escaping the inning unscathed. Tanaka followed Greinke to the showers in the sixth, as the Yankee defense started to come undone. Carlos Correa repeated Springer’s feat with his own three-run bomb to bump the lead to 6-1.
However, the Yanks would make a game of it; Gary Sanchez sliced the deficit back to 6-3 with a two-run shot in the bottom of the sixth before two more Yankee errors in the eighth and another in the ninth allowed Houston to add two more runs and put the game out of reach. The contest marked the sixth time that Correa and Springer have both homered in the same postseason game, more than any other duo; the Astros are 6-0 in those games.
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The Yankees are in Trouble; The Astros have Verlander and Cole Ready to Close out New York
With a commanding 3-1 lead in the Championship Series, the odds for a Houston Astros AL Pennant are -2300. The Yankees odds have increased to +1340. The Astros are also a -170 favorite to win the World Series over the National League champion Washington Nationals (+150). The odds for the Yankees to win the World Series are +2600.
Life gets no easier for the Yanks when the series moves on to Friday’s Game 5. Game 2 victor Justin Verlander—who of late has seen his last name become a verb of being dominated at the plate (“He’s been verlandered!”)—looks to close out the series against James Paxton. Should they survive, the Yanks would live only to face elimination at the hands Gerrit Cole in Game 6 back in Houston.
The Yankees are not the only one hoping to extend the series. The longer the ALCS goes, the less prepared the eventual winner would be to set their rotation to face the bandsaw known as the Washington Nationals.