HOUSTON — The Yankees again saw the Justin Verlander of last October.
No Yankees fan needs reminding of what that means.
The Astros righthander, off to an absurdly hot start this season, continued that with 14 strikeouts Tuesday night, matching a career high.
But the Yankees, after losing starter Jordan Montgomery to what the team called “left elbow tightness” after one inning, matched zeros for eight innings, with Domingo German throwing four scoreless innings, followed by Chad Green and Dellin Betances tossing one each.
That allowed the offense to break through, doing so on Gary Sanchez’s monstrous three-run homer to dead center in the ninth off Ken Giles that helped send the Yankees to a 4-0 victory in front of 34,386 at Minute Maid Park. “Big-time swing,” Aaron Boone said.
Montgomery, whose velocity was down a tick in the first, said he thought he could “throw through” the discomfort he was feeling but didn’t argue when pitching coach Larry Rothschild, who noticed something not quite right, suggested he be removed.
Montgomery, who will be evaluated in New York by team physician Christopher Ahmad on Wednesday, said his concern was “not that high.”
“It’s not like I’m hurting that bad,” he said.
Thrilled to see anyone but Verlander, who retired the last 16 batters he faced, on the mound in the ninth, Aaron Judge started the inning with a sharp single to right. Didi Gregorius followed with a double to left-center, which brought up Sanchez, whom the Astros chose to pitch to rather than walk to load the bases for the struggling Giancarlo Stanton. The catcher, who hit a walk-off homer to beat the Twins on Thursday, destroyed a first-pitch slider for his eighth homer of the season.
Yanked after Aaron Hicks’ single, Giles appeared to punch himself in the face, twice, as he entered the dugout. Hicks later scored on a Will Harris wild pitch to make it 4-0 and send fans streaming for home.
“I was ready to hit regardless,” Sanchez said through his translator. “After I noticed they were not going to walk me, I thought they were going to throw some uncomfortable pitches. I was looking for something that I could hit and he left something there for me.”
Aroldis Chapman struck out the side in the bottom half.
The Yankees (19-10), after striking out 14 times the night before against Charlie Morton and three relievers, struck out 15 times against Verlander and Giles. Verlander, who came in 4-0 with a 1.36 ERA, allowed three hits and did not walk a batter.
The victory, a solid rebound to Monday’s 2-1 loss and accomplished in another October-esque atmosphere in this ballpark that has been a recent house of horrors for the Bombers, nonetheless might have come with a steep cost, depending on the news with Montgomery.
Although German’s performance, which included allowing four hits and striking out four, dropping his season ERA to 3.77, gives at least some early hope the Yankees can weather a Montgomery absence. Boone said German, a 23-year-old righthander who impressed in spring training with a darting curveball that was a weapon Tuesday, would likely slot into Montgomery’s rotation spot if needed.
Verlander struck out eight over the first four innings, out two in each frame.
German and his curveball kept the Astros off balance for two innings but Houston mounted a threat in the fourth. Carlos Correa worked a leadoff walk and Yuli Gurriel ripped a single to left on a 1-and-2, 96-mph fastball. German, however, got Alex Bregman to fly softly to right, then induced a comebacker off the bat of Marwin Gonzalez that resulted in a 1-6-3 inning-ending double play.
“When you’re facing a pitcher like that [Verlander], you want to give your team a chance,” German said through his translator.