DJ LeMahieu #26 of the Yankees walks back to the dugout...

DJ LeMahieu #26 of the Yankees walks back to the dugout after grounding out to end a game against the Houston Astros at Yankee Stadium on Friday, June 24, 2022 in the Bronx borough of New York City. Credit: Jim McIsaac

The Yankees seem unstoppable this season, their domination almost inevitable.

Which is why, even as they trailed late against the AL West-leading Astros on Friday night, it was logical to expect that they’d do what they’ve done 21 other times this year: come back and win. If they were feeling feisty, maybe they’d even do it the way they did Thursday, which marked their ninth walk-off win.

But what is it that everyone always says? That’s why they play the games.

The Astros were able to shut down rallies in the eighth and ninth innings and the Yankees struggled to put up much of a fight against starter Justin Verlander in a 3-1 loss to their heated (and occasionally hated) rivals at Yankee Stadium. It dropped them to 52-19, with 13 of the losses by one or two runs.

“We’re never out of it,” Giancarlo Stanton said, “never out of a game until we’re back here in the locker room. If we’re going to lose, it’s better that we’re right there one swing away from tying it or going up.”

Down 3-1, the Yankees got the go-ahead run to the plate in the eighth, and they had exactly who they wanted up against reliever Phil Maton. After allowing a leadoff walk to DJ LeMahieu, Maton struck out Aaron Judge swinging on a 1-and-2 curveball. Anthony Rizzo walked, but Maton struck out Stanton and Josh Donaldson.

Aaron Hicks drew a one-out walk and pinch hitter Matt Carpenter walked with two outs in the ninth against Rafael Montero before LeMahieu grounded out to third to end it. The Yankees’ home winning streak was snapped at 15 games.

The Yankees were 0-for-7 with runners in scoring position and left nine on base.

“I was feeling that the whole way” that they’d come back, Aaron Boone said. “Even though obviously Verlander was tough and pitched really well, I felt like we were having the right at-bats against them and we just couldn’t push it over the edge . . . It’s just one of those nights.”

Kyle Tucker’s three-run homer against Luis Severino in the sixth provided all the scoring for the Astros (44-26) — an opponent that, even disregarding the teams’ histories, provides a valuable benchmark for these Yankees. They have the second-best record in the American League behind the Yankees and came into the day trailing them by just one spot in the AL in a slew of big categories: ERA, batting average and home runs.

After getting out of a first-and-third, none-out jam in the fifth with three strikeouts — fanning Jose Altuve to end the inning — Severino allowed a one-out double by Alex Bregman in the sixth, walked Yordan Alvarez and served up an inside fastball to Tucker, who pulled it 393 feet for a three-run shot, his 14th homer.

“One mistake there, and against a team like this and a pitcher like Verlander, you have to minimize your mistakes,” Severino said. “They have a good lineup, so you have to be careful.”

The Yankees got one back against Verlander in the bottom of the inning when Stanton whipped his belt-high fastball into the second deck in right for home run No. 16. It was his second blast into the rightfield second deck in two games.

Severino retired the first 10 batters to face him before stumbling in the fifth. Yuli Gurriel and Aledmys Diaz led off with a double and single, putting runners at the corners, but Severino struck out the next two to bring up the much-loathed Altuve.

With the crowd loudly taunting the second baseman in less-than-genteel terms, Severino threw three straight strikes, and the third, an 83.6-mph slider on which Altuve couldn’t quite stop his swing, ended the threat and sent the Stadium into a tizzy. Severino screamed and pumped both fists as he flew off the mound and back to the dugout.

That wasn’t the only time Altuve’s misfortune got Severino (and the crowd) going. Altuve, the unofficial face of the Astros’ cheating scandal, led off the fourth with a sinking liner to leftfield that Hicks was able to nab on a diving backhanded play. More cheers, more fist-pumps from Severino, the only currently active Yankees pitcher to be on that 2019 ALCS roster that lost to the Astros.

“There’s a lot of energy — a lot of extra energy the past two nights,” Stanton said of the series, which drew a sellout crowd of 47,528. “I expect the exact same the next two.”

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