HOUSTON — Aaron Judge first dropped the line about Gleyber Torres in late June and has repeated some form of it since.
“When I was 22, I was playing in Single-A Charleston,” Judge said. “He’s up here facing the best of the best.”
On Saturday night, Torres — still only 22 — again faced the best on one of baseball’s biggest stages and looked right at home.
The second baseman had three hits, including a home run, and drove in five runs to lead the Yankees to a 7-0 victory over the Astros in Game 1 of the American League Championship Series in front of a mostly despondent sellout crowd of 43,311.
Judge disclosed that Torres predicted at least some of that, telling him before the game that he planned to win the championship belt awarded in the clubhouse after every win.
“He came up to me before the game today and said, ‘Hey, I’m getting the belt tonight.’ I said, ‘We’ll see about that. I know you’re going to have a good game, but we’ll see.’ ”
Judge smiled. “He proved it tonight. He just comes in every day ready to work. Doesn’t care if it’s a big situation, he’s going to go out there and produce.”
Torres became the youngest Yankee to drive in five runs in a postseason game.
“Nothing really surprises me. His ability is just off the charts,” Brett Gardner said. “As such a young player, I feel like he’s going to get even better, which is scary for opposing pitchers. He’s just so talented.”
Giancarlo Stanton and Gio Urshela also homered and Masahiro Tanaka pitched six brilliant innings, allowing no runs and one hit. The Yankees outhit the Astros 13-3.
The Yankees, who were 103-59 in the regular season, wrested home-field advantage away from the Astros, who went an MLB-best 107-55 (including an MLB-best 60-21 at Minute Maid Park). The Yankees had lost all four games played at Minute Maid during the 2017 ALCS.
The Yankees will try to take a 2-0 lead in the series on Sunday night when James Paxton opposes Justin Verlander. “That’s huge to come in here and get a win on the road,” Stanton said. “And we have an opportunity tomorrow to get another one.”
Torres had a solo homer, an RBI double, a two-out, two-run single and an RBI groundout, improving to 8-for-17 with nine RBIs in four 2019 playoff games.
His RBI double off Zack Greinke in the fourth, on a first-pitch slider, gave the Yankees a 1-0 lead and his second homer of the postseason, a solo shot off Greinke in the sixth on a first-pitch fastball, made it 2-0. Stanton homered later in the inning and Torres’ bases-loaded single off righty Ryan Pressly in the seventh extended the lead to 5-0.
“I just go to home plate believing what I can do,” Torres said. “And each opportunity I get, I just believe in myself and I just like to help and be confident.”
Astros manager AJ Hinch was impressed. “He didn’t miss any pitches,” he said. “Just looked like he was locked in on pitches, whether he sort of looked at the right location, right spot. He did get the bloop single at the end, which was well placed. But the home run, the double was key.”
Tanaka, meanwhile, furthered his reputation as the Yankees’ big-game pitcher. He is 5-2 with a 1.32 ERA in seven postseason games. Tanaka needed only 68 pitches (45 strikes) to get through six innings, and Adam Ottavino, Zack Britton and Jonathan Loaisiga finished up.
“Obviously the number’s there and I guess I’m flattered,” Tanaka said through his interpreter, referring to his postseason success. “But the happiest thing for me is us being able to get the W. And knowing that you went out there and you gave everything you had, that’s the feeling that you’re looking for.”
Greinke, shelled in ALDS Game 3 against the Rays and unimpressive overall against the Yankees in his career (he entered the game with a 5.05 ERA in 15 games against them), allowed three runs and seven hits in six innings.
DJ LeMahieu singled to left to start the fourth and went to second on a wild pitch. Judge struck out, but Torres hammered a first-pitch slider into the gap in left-center for a 1-0 lead.
Alex Bregman worked a walk to start the fifth and rookie slugger Yordan Alvarez hammered one to right-center that looked as if it might go for extra bases. But Judge ran the drive down and quickly delivered a rifle shot to first, with LeMahieu making a great scoop of the one-hopper to double off Bregman and silence much of the crowd.
After Judge flied out to start the sixth, Torres, again swinging at the first pitch, drove the ball over the leftfield wall for a 2-0 lead, further sucking the air out of the building. The remaining enthusiasm departed two batters later when Stanton drove a full-count fastball to right-center for his second career postseason homer.
One-out singles by Michael Brantley and Jose Altuve (who reached base because of a miscommunication between Didi Gregorius and Torres) gave the Astros runners at the corners in the seventh, and the Astros appeared to score when Bregman beat Torres’ one-hop relay to first on a potential double-play ball. But LeMahieu, who had scooped the ball out of the dirt, immediately signaled to the Yankees’ bench to challenge the call, and when it was overturned, the run was taken off the board.
“Game 1’s the most important, that’s what I’ve said for a while now,” Judge said. “Especially to come in here and beat them in their own house, that’s huge. We went out there and did our job. Now it’s time to get ready for tomorrow.”