With the Yankees clinging to a one-run lead in the seventh inning, Joe Girardi walked to the mound and called on a righthanded reliever with two men on and one out.
Not Dellin Betances. Not Adam Warren. Not Shawn Kelley.
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Girardi brought in Esmil Rogers. Six pitches later, the Yankees were trailing the lowly Astros by three runs. They went on to lose, 5-2, before 42,102 Wednesday night at Yankee Stadium.
The Yankees have lost seven of nine. They have dropped four of five this season to the Astros (54-73).
Rogers, whom the Yankees claimed off waivers from Toronto on July 31, gave up four consecutive singles as the Astros went from trailing 2-1 to leading 5-2. Three of the hits came on the first pitch.
Girardi went to Rogers because his regular relievers are flat-out worn out. Betances, Kelley and David Robertson all pitched three of the previous four days, and Warren has been a shell of his first-half self.
"I was not going to use Betances,'' Girardi said. "Kelley was my eighth-inning guy. I couldn't ask him to get me multiple outs as much as we've used him lately. That's why I went to the guys I went to.''
Warren warmed up before the ninth, so he was available because he had pitched only once since Aug. 11. But that was Tuesday, when he allowed two inherited runners to score in a 7-4 loss to the Astros.
In his last three outings, Warren allowed five inherited runners to score and gave up three runs of his own. When asked if he considered Warren in the seventh, Girardi said, "No.''
So that left it up to Rogers.
"Rogers has thrown the ball very well for us, so I was going to go to him,'' Girardi said. "When the other guys are used a lot, guys have to step up. Esmil's done a pretty good job for us . . . It just didn't happen tonight.''
The Yankees fell 91/2 games behind the Orioles in the AL East and five games behind the Tigers for the second wild card.
The Astros' rally spoiled a second outstanding start by Michael Pineda in his comeback from a shoulder muscle injury. Pineda pitched six innings plus one batter and was charged with two runs, four hits and a walk. He threw 89 pitches.
Pineda walked Jason Castro to open the fateful seventh. David Huff (3-1) struck out Jon Singleton before allowing a single to Marwin Gonzalez. Then Girardi called in Rogers.
Matt Dominguez greeted Rogers with a first-pitch single to load the bases. Jake Marisnick lined a third-pitch single to tie it at 2. Robbie Grossman hammered the first pitch to center for a two-run single to give the Astros a 4-2 lead. The next pitch was another run-scoring single by Jose Altuve to make it 5-2. Boos rained down on Rogers.
The Yankees scored on a fourth-inning homer by Stephen Drew and a two-out bunt single by Jacoby Ellsbury in the fifth against Scott Feldman (7-9). Ellsbury, bunting on his own, surprised the Astros by dropping one to the third-base side of the mound as Ichiro Suzuki scored from third.
Ellsbury had a chance to tie it against Jose Veras in the ninth, but his fly ball to right with two men on was caught in front of the warning track. The Yankees were 1-for-8 with runners in scoring position after going 1-for-9 Tuesday.
"We're just not getting it done,'' Girardi said. "Sometimes it's a little bit foul, sometimes they just miss it. We're just not getting it done.''