Two years later, the Yankees get their chance for revenge.
With the Astros at last dispatching the Rays, 6-1, in Game 5 of their American League Division Series late Thursday night, it set up a rematch of the 2017 ALCS, which the Yankees lost in seven games.
Given that both clubs were well on their way to separating themselves from the competition by the July 31 trade deadline, it also set up a series that fans across the sport have been anticipating for quite a while.
The Astros took the AL’s top seed with an MLB-best 107-55 record; the Yankees earned the second seed with a 103-59 mark.
Game 1 of this year’s ALCS will be played Saturday night at Minute Maid Park, where the Yankees lost four times in the 2017 series, including 7-1 in Game 6 and 4-0 in Game 7. The Astros lost the three games in that series that were played at the Stadium.
The Yankees, who completed a three-game ALDS sweep of the Twins on Monday night and worked out at the Stadium on Thursday afternoon not knowing whom or where they would be playing in Game 1, will leave for Houston at noon Friday and work out at Minute Maid later in the day.
“I think both teams are great and present serious trouble, competition for us,” Aaron Boone said before his club’s workout. “And I know we'll have to play really well to beat both teams, whoever it ends up being.”
The Astros feature one of baseball’s most complete offenses and perhaps the best 1-2 pitching punch with Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole, who are expected to be the top vote-getters in the AL Cy Young Award voting.
But because the Rays forced a deciding fifth game — beating Verlander in Game 4 and necessitating the use of Cole on Thursday night — neither of the co-aces will be available to pitch Game 1 Saturday night. Verlander pitched Tuesday on three days' rest and could come back on regular rest to start Sunday’s Game 2. Cole will be available to start Tuesday's Game 3.
Zack Greinke, whom the Yankees have hit hard more often than not throughout the righthander’s career (he has a 5.05 ERA in 15 games against them), likely will get the nod in Game 1.
“With Houston, I think a lot of people would look at them as, going into this postseason, as kind of the odds-on favorite, really kind of a complete team with elite starting pitching and a good bullpen and star players,” Boone said before he knew whom he'd be playing. “We know they're a load, so we're really excited . . . whoever it may end up being, and we know we'll have our work cut out for us. But I think our guys relish that opportunity.”
Houston prevailed in this year’s season series, 4-3. Many of the games were of the could-have-gone-either-way variety, with the Astros outscoring the Yankees 39-37. Three of those games, all Astros victories, were played April 8-10 in Houston, well before the Yankees started rolling. The Yankees had late-inning leads in the first two games, which, incidentally, were started by Verlander and Cole.
Zack Britton has appeared in 12 postseason games — six with the Orioles in 2014 and six last season with the Yankees. He said from a pitcher’s standpoint, the opponent almost is irrelevant.
“At this stage, everyone’s a good team. Tampa’s good, Houston’s good,” said Britton, who hurt his right ankle Monday in Minneapolis but declared himself ready to go for the ALCS. “It just comes down to executing pitches regardless of who we play. That’s something as an older player I’ve talked to some of the younger guys — it doesn’t really matter who you face this time of year, it’s about executing pitches.”