A rearranged lineup didn’t make much difference against Justin Verlander on Monday afternoon.
But the Yankees are in good company in that regard. Few teams have found the right combination this season against the 35-year-old righthander.
Before the game, Aaron Boone said Verlander is “throwing the ball as well as anyone in the sport right now.” And a few hours later, he dominated the Yankees for 6 2⁄3 innings as the Astros earned a 5-1 victory in front of a sellout crowd of 46,583 at the Stadium.
The Yankees did accomplish something, as Greg Bird’s first home run of the season sent Verlander’s ERA rocketing from 1.08 all the way to 1.11.
“He’s a pretty good pitcher,” Gleyber Torres said. “Awesome.”
Verlander (7-2) — who struck out 14 Yankees in eight shutout innings on May 1 — allowed five hits, did not walk a batter, struck out five and tipped his cap to the booing crowd as he departed with two outs in the seventh.
“You know you’re up against one of the game’s best,” said Boone, who sent out a lineup that had Torres hitting fifth and skidding Didi Gregorius batting seventh, with slumping Giancarlo Stanton getting the day off. “That said, I know we’re always in it, and even felt that way today. We had a couple of opportunities.”
Verlander took a 4-0 lead into the seventh before allowing the home run by Bird, playing in his third game since coming off the disabled list. Two outs later, Gregorius, who entered the day mired in a 4-for-70 slump, singled for the second time in the game. Will Harris replaced Verlander, and after Gregorius stole second, Miguel Andujar struck out on a full-count curveball.
“The last three innings were pretty tough for me,” Verlander said. “I thought those guys did a really good job not chasing the slider and the good ones, they found a way to lay off them. I just had to grind.”
After Jose Altuve homered off A.J. Cole in the top of the eighth to make it 5-1, Chris Devenski allowed a leadoff single by Neil Walker in the bottom half before striking out two of the next three batters. Ken Giles allowed a leadoff single by Bird in the ninth and nothing else.
“He uses all his pitches, when he wants, where he wants to,” Bird said of Verlander. “So that makes for a long day.”
The Yankees (33-17) lost for the fourth time in six games and dropped two games behind the AL East-leading Red Sox.
Yankees rookie Domingo German (0-3) had allowed six earned runs in each of his previous two starts but pitched better than that against the Astros (35-20), an outing Boone called “encouraging.”
German, who got the chance to start after pitching four scoreless innings in relief of an injured Jordan Montgomery May 1 in Houston, allowed four runs (three earned) and five hits in 5 2⁄3 innings. He walked two and struck out seven.
After an error by Torres, German allowed an unearned run in the fourth that made it 4-0 (Torres had an adventurous afternoon, getting picked off second but also making two terrific defensive plays). But the big blow against German was J.D. Davis’ three-run homer in the second.
“You can’t make mistakes when you’re facing that caliber of pitcher, when you’re opposing a pitcher like [Verlander],” German said through his translator, referring to giving up Davis’ homer. “But this is a good experience, [I’ll] learn from it and I’ll be ready for the next challenge.”