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Astros complete sweep of Yankees as James Paxton struggles on mound

Houston Astros third baseman Yuli Gurriel (10) and

Houston Astros third baseman Yuli Gurriel (10) and Carlos Correa (1) celebrate Correa's home run during the fifth inning of a baseball game against the New York Yankees Wednesday, April 10, 2019, in Houston. (AP Photo/Michael Wyke) Credit: AP/Michael Wyke

HOUSTON – Brett Gardner led off Wednesday night’s game with a long home run to rightfield on Collin McHugh’s third pitch. For the next three hours that stood up as the highlight for the Yankees as their pitching plunged them into a five-run hole by mid-game.

They did manage an impressive rally late, but a four-run eighth wasn’t enough as they lost, 8-6, completing a three-game sweep by the Astros at Minute Maid Park. The Yankees, who swept the bottom-dwelling Orioles to start the trip, blew late leads Monday and Tuesday.

Aaron Judge was asked to evaluate how the Yankees (5-7) have played two weeks into the season.

"Based on our record, not well," Judge said. "Of course you want to go out there and win every single game. It’s just been a grind, but that’s baseball. Teams get prepared for a long season. We’ve got a long season ahead of us.”

James Paxton (1-2, 6.00 ERA) continued a subpar start to his Yankees career, allowing five runs and eight hits over four innings-plus. The lefthander gave up two homers, both to Jose Altuve, who hit four in the series. Paxton is familiar with the Astros after pitching against them in the AL West while with the Mariners. He was 7-3 against Houston with a 2.89 ERA in 12 previous starts, including 4-0 with a 2.05 ERA last season.

“I didn’t really have my sharpest stuff,” Paxton said. “Today was a day we really needed to get a win and I didn’t do my job.”

Nor did Tommy Kahnle, who replaced Paxton with one on in the fifth and allowed a two-run homer to Carlos Correa and an RBI single to Max Stassi that made it 7-2 .

“We have to tighten it up, play a little bit better, but I believe we’re really close to turning the corner,” said Aaron Boone, whose club hasn’t played many clean games. “It’s a little bump in the road that’s inevitable in a major-league season, and we’ll work our way out of it.”

Luke Voit’s fourth homer, a two-run shot in the eighth off Josh James, made it 7-4. Hector Rondon gave up an RBI double to DJ LeMahieu, who had three hits to raise his average to .410, and a sacrifice fly by Clint Frazier to make it 7-6. With LeMahieu on third and one out, Austin Romine lined to second. Ryan Pressly struck out pinch hitter Gary Sanchez to end the inning.

Zack Britton, who flushed Monday’s game, allowed a run in the bottom half, though that was set up by a Gleyber Torres throwing error. Pressly allowed a one-out single to Judge in the ninth but struck out Voit and Torres for the save.

The Yankees entered the fifth trailing only 3-2. Altuve led off the inning by attacking a first-pitch Paxton fastball and launching it nearly out of the stadium, only the light tower in left keeping it in the park. After Michael Brantley beat the shift with a single to the left side of the infield, Paxton’s night was done.

The Yankees’ night started on a positive several hours before first pitch. Miguel Andujar, out since April 1 with a small tear in his right labrum, played catch for the first time during his rehab process.

“I definitely felt better than I thought I was going to feel,” said Andujar, who hopes to avoid surgery, though that won’t be determined for a couple of weeks at least.

His next step will be another light throwing session Friday and also, for the first time, hitting in the cage.

Gardner’s leadoff homer suggested it might be the Yankees’ night, but McHugh struck out Judge, Voit and Torres right after it, showing the righthander was far from rattled. McHugh, with a killer slider, would strike out nine over six innings in which he allowed two runs, four hits and a walk.

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