Yankees rightfielder Aaron Judge reacts after striking out to end the...

Yankees rightfielder Aaron Judge reacts after striking out to end the fourth inning in Game 6 of the ALCS against the Astros on Saturday at Minute Maid Park in Houston. Credit: Newsday/J. Conrad Williams Jr.

HOUSTON -- The Yankees won 103 regular-season games in cruising to their first AL East title in seven years and coasted past the 101-win Twins in the American League Division Series.

Then, for the third time in the last five years, their season ended against the Astros, who — until someone proves otherwise — are the gold standard of the AL.

The Yankees, an upstart outfit in 2017 that pushed Houston to seven games in the ALCS after losing to the Astros in the 2015 wild-card game, thought they had a team built to  reach this season's World Series.

It didn’t happen, and they didn't even get as far as they did two years ago. Minutes after DJ LeMahieu's two-run homer in the top of the ninth tied ALCS Game 6 at 4-4 on Saturday night, the Yankees' season ended abruptly when Jose Altuve hit a walk-off two-run homer against Aroldis Chapman with two outs in the bottom of the inning.

Afterward the Yankees paid appropriate homage to the Astros, but they understandably were not interested in addressing the gap separating the two franchises.

That's because, as J.A. Happ put it, their overwhelming belief is that little gap, if any, exists.

“Give them credit. They deserve credit and I think they’ll continue to get it as they go. You take nothing away from them,” Happ said. “But if you ask [us], we felt like we were going to win this series and move on. We felt like we were going to beat everybody, that we can and should beat everybody. And I think that’s how we should feel. We expected to win six more than we did.”

Aaron Boone, who spent about 10 minutes in the clubhouse stopping by each locker to hug his players and thank them for the season, said “I feel like we are on equal footing” with the Astros.

The second-year manager, whose team lost to the eventual champion Red Sox in last year’s ALDS, added: “Unfortunately, sports can be a little bit cruel for the team that goes home and such can happen in the series. I think we’re a better team this year than we were last year. And we’ll work very hard in the winter in every phase … the work never ends. And we’ll continue to try and I guess close that gap or put ourselves in a position to get over the hump. I know everyone in our room believes we will and we’ll have a lot of battle scars when we do finally get to the top of that mountain.”

It was not challenging to figure out why the Yankees didn’t get to the peak this season. Though the Astros were considered to have superior starting pitching, the Yankees hung in with them. It was their offense that sent them home short of the World Series. 

The Yankees struck out 64 times in the six ALCS games and went 6-for-36 with runners in scoring position. After winning Game 1, 7-0, they scored 14 runs in the final five games — 12 of which came on seven homers — and went 3-for-25 with RISP. 

“Just play better ball all the way around; defensively, offensively,” Aaron Judge said. “A lot of miscues defensively, and when you give a team like this extra outs, they’re going to produce some runs out of that. And like I said all series, when you get guys on base, we have to score them. We have to move guys over. Collectively, those are just some of the things off the top of my head.”

Brett Gardner, a free agent who wants to play next season and could be back with the Yankees, didn’t downplay the disappointment of another postseason setback.

“It’ll take a while to get over. Some of us may never get over it,” he said. “But you have to win in October. We have a long time to think about that before another October rolls around. The last three years, [we’ve been a] good team. But this time of year, you’ve got to beat great teams to move on, and we just came up a little short.”

Yankees walk-off losses to end their postseason

Year Round Opp. Game Player, Hit

1960 WS Pirates 7 Bill Mazeroski, HR

1995 ALDS Mariners 5 Edgar Martinez, 2B

2001 WS D-backs 7 Luis Gonzalez, 1B

2019 ALCS Astros 6 Jose Altuve, HR

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