HOUSTON — It was a major step up in class in just about every respect for the Yankees after they swept the barely big-league Orioles over the weekend.
The Yankees handled it for six innings Monday night. For the first time in a long while, they made Justin Verlander look human. But an unexpected implosion from two of their top relievers flushed Masahiro Tanaka’s six brilliant innings, and the Yankees took a rough 4-3 loss to the Astros in the matchup of American League heavyweights at Minute Maid Park.
“It stings a little bit when you lose a game like that where you feel like you played pretty well,” Aaron Boone said.
Tanaka threw 78 pitches, allowed one run and three hits, and departed with a 3-1 lead, turning the ball over to Zack Britton. He said he had no issue with being lifted then, especially after escaping a first-and-third, one-out jam in the sixth.
“I think that was the right timing,” he said through his translator. “I think the Astros batters were starting to get their barrel on the ball. I feel like I gave everything I had in the sixth inning there.”
Britton, unscored on in four previous outings this season, gave up a leadoff single to Carlos Correa in the seventh and Yuli Gurriel grounded into a forceout. After Gurriel advanced to second on a groundout, Britton walked Tyler White and laid in a 1-and-1 fastball that No. 9 hitter Robinson Chirinos rifled into the gap in right-center for a two-run double that tied it at 3.
“I put myself in a bind right away,” said Britton, who was most irritated about allowing the leadoff single to Correa on an 0-and-2 pitch. “I’ve closed enough games. That first out when you have the lead is probably the most important. To give them some energy in that dugout with an 0-2 hit makes it a lot tougher.”
Adam Ottavino came on for Britton and struck out George Springer to end the seventh. He also struck out Jose Altuve to start the eighth. But the righthander, unscored on in his first five appearances, walked Alex Bregman and allowed a single to Michael Brantley that put runners at the corners. Then Correa hit a broken-bat squibber that squirted up the first-base line for an RBI infield single that made it 4-3.
First baseman Greg Bird fielded the ball and had no play. Ottavino said he might try to field Correa’s ball differently if given another chance, but Bird said it wouldn’t have mattered if the defense had gotten a mulligan.
“No man’s land,” Bird said. “Not much you could do with it. Even the way it came off the bat, it just kind of sat. Tough one.”
Roberto Osuna pitched a 1-2-3 ninth for the save. Aaron Judge, 2-for-3 with a home run to rightfield off Verlander in the fifth that made it 2-1, lined hard to right for the final out.
The bullpen’s failure overshadowed the best work the Yankees have done against Verlander in years. He had been 3-0 with a 0.59 ERA in four starts against them since joining the Astros. That includes his 2-0, 0.56 mark in the 2017 ALCS, when he captured MVP honors.
On Monday, he allowed three runs and seven hits in six innings, the first time the Yankees scored multiple runs against him since June 15, 2015, when he was with the Tigers and they tagged him for six runs.
“It’s hard,” Britton said. “Masa threw a great game. I feel like the offense did enough, too. My job is to come there, shut that inning down, get the ball to Otto and get the ball to Chappy [Aroldis Chapman]. Made some bad pitches, especially to Correa to start that inning. That’s a guy you have to put away. You get that first out, that inning’s a whole lot different.”