Nathan Eovaldi represented the best hopes for the Yankees rotation the rest of the season with his dominant eight-inning performance Monday night.
The worst fears for the group were realized less than 24 hours later.
Ivan Nova couldn't overcome a misjudged fly ball in the first inning by Jacoby Ellsbury, the resulting five-run implosion paving the way for a hideous-looking 15-1 loss to the Astros in front of 38,015 at the Stadium Tuesday night.
"It was not a good game tonight," Nova said. "I want to help this team win games, especially this late in the season. We're fighting for a spot in the playoffs."
Nova, who pitched reasonably well since returning from Tommy John surgery in late June, but has struggled of late, saw those struggles continue as he allowed a season-worst seven runs, along with seven hits, in four innings.
"He didn't have real command of his fastball or his curveball and that's a pretty tall task," manager Joe Girardi said.
Astros righthander Dallas Keuchel (15-6, 2.28), a strong AL Cy Young Award candidate, burnished those credentials with seven shutout innings in which he allowed three hits and no walks. Kuechel, who pitched a six-hitter against the Yankees on June 25 in Houston, struck out nine.
Mark Teixeira, back in after a week off resting a bone bruise on his right leg and who sounded unsure if he'd be able to play Wednesday afternoon said: "The guy's a good pitcher. He's, if not the best pitcher in the American League, he's top two or three. His ball's moving all over the place, he throws strikes, he hits the corners, he has four pitches that he can use. Just a really good pitcher."
The Yankees (69-56), who had four hits and didn't score until the ninth, fell to one game behind the Blue Jays in the AL East.
The most excited the crowd got Tuesday night was in the sixth when Houston centerfielder Carlos Gomez flied out to center. On his way back down the first-base line, Gomez was seen yelling "Shut up! Shut up!" to the Yankees dugout.
Gomez stopped near the plate and began yelling at catcher John Ryan Murphy. The dugouts and bullpens halfheartedly emptied but nothing more than that.
Gomez got the final laugh in the seventh, highlighting a six-run inning against Chris Capuano, all but certain to be DFA'd Wednesday morning, with a three-run homer that made it 15-0. Brendan Ryan, who started at second, wound up the Yankees' most effective pitcher of the night, twirling scoreless eighth and ninth innings.
The AL West-leading Astros (70-57), who had 15 hits, opened it up early. They sent 10 to the plate against Nova (5-6, 4.50), who came in 1-2 with a 5.19 ERA his previous three starts, in a 40-pitch first, scoring all of their runs with two outs after the Ellsbury misplay in center.
Nova walked Carlos Correa with two outs. Colby Rasmus followed by dumping a fly ball to center. Ellsbury appeared to misjudge it off the bat, taking a step back at first, and was not able to recover in time as he missed on a sliding attempt, the ball trickling past him for an RBI triple. Evan Gattis walked and Gomez lined a first-pitch 94-mph fastball to left-center for an RBI double that made it 2-0.
Luis Valbuena then launched a two-run double to left-center that made it 4-0. Marwin Gonzalez ripped an 0-and-1 curveball down the rightfield line for an RBI single to make it 5-0.
The Yankees didn't put their first runner in scoring position against Keuchel until two outs in the fourth when Carlos Beltran blasted one off the top of the wall in left-center, just missing a home run. Keuchel kept him there, getting Chase Headley to ground to second.
Nova kept Houston off the board in innings 2 through 4 before being knocked from the game in the fifth. Rasmus led off the inning with a double and Gattis laid into a 2-and-2 curveball and sent it into the seats in left for his 20th homer of the season and 7-0 lead.
Girardi pulled Nova, replacing him with rookie righthander Nick Rumbelow, who retired the first two batters he faced but not the third. Marwin Gonzalez homered to right, his ninth blast of the season, to make it 8-0.