HOUSTON — Well, at least Saturday night will be a more familiar, and perhaps more comfortable, position for the Yankees.
Friday night didn’t turn out to be that way at all.
Taking the field with a series lead for the first time this postseason, the Yankees were riding high after three straight wins in the Bronx and had a chance to advance to the World Series. But they were shut down by Justin Verlander and a rickety bullpen in a 7-1 loss to the Astros in Game 6 of the American League Championship Series.
“We would have liked to have wrapped things up tonight, obviously,” Brett Gardner said. “But it wasn’t meant to be, so we’ll go out tomorrow night, play as hard as we can and hopefully things work out.”
CC Sabathia, a rock this postseason, will start Game 7 against Houston righthander Charlie Morton, whom the Yankees rocked to the tune of seven runs in Game 3. The winner will face the Dodgers in the World Series, which will start Tuesday in Los Angeles.
Sabathia is 10-0 with a 1.69 ERA after Yankees losses this season. “He’s the guy we want out there,” said reliever David Robertson, who was hammered for four runs in the eighth after Aaron Judge homered to move the Yankees within 3-1 in the top of the inning.
While Yankees fans may worry that a slumbering Houston offense finally might have been rustled awake, there are more reasons than not for them to feel confident in Game 7.
Verlander was the last good starting pitcher option for the Astros — and their bullpen, while well-rested, has few arms in it, if any, that are trusted by manager A.J. Hinch.
Additionally, the Yankees already have won this kind of game — Game 5 of the Division Series at Cleveland, where they beat Corey Kluber, likely the AL’s Cy Young Award winner. That could help.
“No question,” Chase Headley said. “Any time you’ve been there and played a really good team at their place against a really good pitcher, you can definitely take some confidence from that. If you told us at the beginning of the year that this is where we’d be, in Game 7 of the ALCS, I think everybody would be pretty happy about it.”
Verlander, while not quite as sharp as he was in Game 2, when he allowed five hits and struck out 13 in nine innings, fanned eight in seven shutout innings in Game 6.
Luis Severino, pulled after four innings of Game 2 for precautionary reasons, matched Verlander until the fifth, when he allowed three runs. He gave up three runs, three hits and four walks in 4 2⁄3 innings.
The Yankees outhit the Astros 5-3 through seven innings, but Houston’s hits were timely: an RBI double by Brian McCann and a two-out, two-run single by Jose Altuve during a three-run fifth. Severino walked three batters in the inning, and two of them came around to score.
“It’s disappointing,” Severino said. “I didn’t do the job.”
In a battle of American League MVP candidates, Judge homered off Brad Peacock in the top of the eighth and Altuve matched him in the bottom of the inning, homering off Robertson to make it 4-1. Robertson then gave up a double by Carlos Correa, a single by Yuli Gurriel and a two-run double by Alex Bregman. Dellin Betances replaced Robertson, and Evan Gattis’ sacrifice fly made it 7-1.
The Astros totaled nine runs in the first five games of the series while producing a .147/.234/.213 slash line. Through seven innings of Game 6, they were 25-for-174 (.144) in the series before pounding Robertson.
With two on and two outs in the sixth and Verlander, who threw 124 pitches in Game 2, showing signs of tiring, Sanchez checked his swing and grounded to short on a 3-and-0 pitch.
An inning later, with two on, one out and Verlander on fumes, Todd Frazier drove a 0-and-1 fastball to dead center that he and those in the Yankees’ dugout thought was out. Instead, it was an out, as centerfielder George Springer made a leaping catch against the wall to steal an extra-base hit.
“I thought it was gone,” Frazier said. “I was frustrated. I thought I hit it out, thought I’d tied the game.”
The eighth extinguished all hopes of a victory. Now it’s on to one game for a World Series berth.
“I think you have to keep tonight’s game in perspective,” Joe Girardi said. “We still have a shot to do what we want to do. Put tonight behind you, move on and let’s be ready to go tomorrow.”