It is the oldest cliché in baseball because it is true: There is no way to run out the clock. You’ve got to keep getting the other side out right through the end, which is not the Astros’ specialty. With the way their bullpen looked in Game 4, it makes a person wonder if their time has expired.
Having taken a four-run lead over the Yankees in the seventh inning, the Astros saw the game instantly disintegrate. “It may look like it’s unraveling really quick, but in my eyes they were just slowly putting us to the ground,” said Ken Giles, the closer who came on in the eighth inning and allowed the pivotal hits. “That’s pretty much what they did, just executed and we didn’t execute.”
Considering how late it was in this American League Championship Series game, and how near the finish line appeared — the Astros still led by two runs in the eighth — the visiting side never got there. Now instead of having a 3-1 lead, they are tied 2-2 and left to wonder if they will be able to shut the door on two more wins.
“We just couldn’t get the inning to end,” manager A.J. Hinch said of the eighth, when the Yankees scored four times on the way to a 6-4 victory. “We were trying to match up and make pitches. They were putting really great at-bats together. Even their outs . . . they had productive outs.
“The key really in that inning is not turning Headley’s ball into an out,” Hinch said of the play in which Chase Headley stumbled between first and second and still managed to reach second, representing the tying run with no outs.
Joe Musgrove, who was pitching at the time, said, “If we can keep him at first, or if we can get that out there, I think I’ve got a chance to stay in and keep the game under control. It just didn’t go our way. Not much to say about it.”
But Headley was there in the first place because he had the second of two consecutive hits against Musgrove. Giles came in and, after getting a run-scoring groundout, let the game get away by giving up doubles to Aaron Judge before and Gary Sanchez after a single by Didi Gregorius.
Like Musgrove, Giles said his pitches “leaked” too much over the plate. “It’s painful. I let my whole team down, I let Lance [(McCullers, the starter] down. He had a tremendous start. That’s the hardest part,” Giles said.
If a ballclub can be seen as a ship, the bullpen is Houston’s greatest source of leaks. Hinch tacitly admitted as much when he used ace Justin Verlander as a reliever in the finale of the Division Series against the Red Sox. Verlander surrendered the lead then, but his team came back.
At Yankee Stadium Tuesday, the Astros came back to their clubhouse in a state of shock. “I think today we got punched in the mouth and we’re going to show up ready to compete tomorrow,” third baseman Alex Bregman said. “They put together a good comeback and I think tomorrow is a brand new day.”
It remains to be seen, though, if the clock has struck 12 on their pitching staff.