HOUSTON — The trip already was a good one.
Coming into the day, the Yankees had won five of six against the Angels and Astros, very much making Thursday afternoon’s series finale against Houston a gravy game.
But as Aaron Boone has said many times, good isn’t what this Yankees team is after — “they want to be great.”
And thanks to a stirring ninth-inning comeback, the Yankees turned a good trip into a great one, ending it with a 6-5 victory over the defending World Series champions.
“Our guys never, never mail it in,” Boone said.
The Yankees (21-10) brought a 3-0 lead and a streak of 28 consecutive scoreless innings pitched into the seventh but eventually fell behind 5-3 before scoring three times in the ninth. They have won 12 of 13, including this 6-1 trip, and have moved within one game of the AL East-leading Red Sox, who led the Yankees by 7 1⁄2 games on April 20.
“Going to Anaheim and getting three wins on a team that’s one of the best in the game, and then to come here to Houston and battle back after a tough first loss [Monday], it just kind of shows what kind of team we are,” Aaron Judge said.
With two on in the bottom of the ninth, Aroldis Chapman blew away reigning American League MVP Jose Altuve with three 100-mph-plus fastballs to finish it.
October is a long ways off, but the Yankees now have some degree of confidence that, if they return to Houston, they can win in this ballpark. Monday’s 2-1 loss had made it five straight defeats at Minute Maid, a quintet of games — including four in the seven-game ALCS loss last year — in which the Yankees were outscored 17-4. But the Yankees won the final three games of this series.
“We think we’re a really good team, we know they’re a great team and any time, here or [in New York], we know we have to be at our best to beat them,” Boone said. “And I think that was the case here.”
After Astros reliever Chris Devenski struck out the side on 12 pitches in the eighth, manager A.J. Hinch called on righthander Will Harris to protect a 5-3 lead in the ninth. He walked Neil Walker, whose RBI single in the third had made it 3-0 and, to that point, represented the last Yankees hit of the afternoon. That changed when Miguel Andujar punched a single to right and pinch hitter Aaron Hicks singled to load the bases.
In came righty Brad Peacock, who served up a two-run single to rookie Gleyber Torres that tied it at 5.
Brett Gardner flied to center, not deep enough to get Hicks home, but when the Astros were unable to turn a double play on Judge’s bouncer to third, getting only the force at second as Torres slid in hard and Altuve lost the ball on the transfer, Hicks scored to make it 6-5.
Chapman retired the first two in the ninth and then struck out pinch hitter Evan Gattis on a low fastball, but when Gary Sanchez couldn’t catch it cleanly, the wild pitch allowed Gattis to reach first. George Springer singled to left, but Chapman struck out Altuve, one of the best fastball hitters in the game, on three pitches — heaters of 101.0, 101.0 and 101.4 mph.
“There’s a lot of adrenaline going on in that situation,” said Chapman, who recorded his seventh save and lowered his ERA to 1.29. “It pushes you to be tougher in that situation.”
After being shut out in the second and third games of the series, the Astros (20-13) finally got on the board in the seventh. Masahiro Tanaka allowed singles by Yuli Gurriel and Josh Reddick and hit Alex Bregman with a pitch before being replaced by Chad Green, who allowed all three inherited runners to score, plus one of his own. Carlos Correa’s towering homer off Green in the eighth made it 5-3, and it appeared as if the Yankees would have to settle for a 5-2 trip, which by any objective measure would have been a success. Instead, a three-run rally ensued.
“Game’s not over,” Judge said of the deficit. “That’s been our mindset all year. Just string together quality at-bats. You never know what’s going to happen.”