HOUSTON - On a day when Joe Girardi was down three key arms in the bullpen, Michael Pineda more than did his job. His teammates, however, didn't come close to doing theirs.
Dead wood and a huge defensive miscue led to a 3-1 loss to the Astros Sunday afternoon in front of 31,961 at Minute Maid Park.
The Yankees (41-35), who split the four-game series against the AL West-leading Astros (44-34), had only two hits, both of which were singles, and two walks.
"It's important that we get some distance out of Michael," Girardi -- who wanted to stay away from relievers Chasen Shreve, Justin Wilson and Dellin Betances, each of whom had pitched the previous two days -- said before the game.
Pineda provided that distance with eight strong innings, but it wasn't enough as the Yankees were shut down by Astros righthander Collin McHugh (9-3). He entered the game with a 4.80 ERA but allowed one run and two hits in eight innings, striking out eight. Luke Gregerson pitched a perfect ninth for his 18th save.
"[McHugh] was just staying off the middle of the plate," said Brett Gardner, who put the Yankees ahead 1-0 in the third with an RBI single and is 22-for-45 with 10 extra-base hits and 11 RBIs in his last 10 games. "He pitched well."
Pineda (8-5, 4.08), torched to the tune of a season-worst eight runs and 11 hits last Monday against the Phillies, allowed three runs (two earned) and seven hits. With a mostly terrific slider -- though the pitch let him down in the seventh inning when the Astros took a 2-1 lead -- Pineda struck out eight and did not walk a batter.
"I tried to work deep into the game," he said. "This is my responsibility."
After George Springer's leadoff single in the first, Pineda retired nine straight, striking out four of those batters. But that streak ended, through little fault of Pineda's, in the fourth.
With one out, rookie shortstop Carlos Correa lifted a fly to left-center. Centerfielder Gardner and leftfielder Garrett Jones converged, both called for the ball and both pulled back at the last moment. The ball hit the grass for what was scored a double and Gardner inadvertently kicked it toward the wall. The two-base error allowed Correa to score easily and tie it at 1-1.
"Obviously,'' Girardi said, "it's a play that has to be made."
It stayed 1-1 until the seventh. Correa led off by driving a 0-and-1 slider down the leftfield line for a double and Jose Altuve moved him to third with a sacrifice bunt. Evan Gattis, who went 5-for-14 with four RBIs in the series, then launched a 1-and-1 slider off the base of the wall in left-center for an RBI triple that made it 2-1.
Preston Tucker doubled and scored on Jason Castro's sacrifice fly in the eighth to make it 3-1.
"He's a good hitter," Pineda said of Correa, the 20-year-old shortstop who went 6-for-16 in the series. "I tried to do my best but he's a really good hitter."
The Yankees had precious few of those, with Gardner and Alex Rodriguez the only ones to collect hits. It was a disappointing output on any day, and especially so on a day when Pineda pitched so well.
"I thought he had good stuff from the beginning," Girardi said. "I thought all three pitches were effective today. Most days we're going to score more runs than that and we're going to win."