HOUSTON — It was, at last, significant progress for Sonny Gray. But it was his misfortune that it occurred on a night when Charlie Morton was pitching.
One of baseball’s best pitchers in the opening month of the season, the Astros righthander produced another stellar outing Monday night as Houston ended the Yankees’ winning streak at nine games with a 2-1 victory at Minute Maid Park.
“I think it’s a step in the right direction for me personally,” said Gray, who came in with a 7.71 ERA in five starts but allowed only two runs and four hits in six innings, which matched his season high. “Unfortunately, Morton was a little bit better. Maybe a lot better.”
Morton, who came in 3-0 with a 1.86 ERA, allowed two hits and two walks in 7 2⁄3 innings, striking out 10. “Electric stuff,” Aaron Boone said. “Commanded it pretty much how he wanted to. You tip your cap to him. He was on top of it tonight.”
After dominating with high- 90s fastballs and a sharp curveball, Morton exited with the score 2-0, although he wound up being charged with a run.
Gleyber Torres doubled with two outs in the eighth for the Yankees’ second hit. Aaron Judge, given a rest after starting the first 27 games, then batted for Austin Romine, who had broken up Morton’s no-hitter with a one-out single to right in the sixth.
Astros manager A.J. Hinch pulled Morton after 102 pitches and called for Brad Peacock. Judge got ahead 3-and-0 before walking, with Torres stealing third on the full-count pitch. Brett Gardner then lined Chris Devenski’s first-pitch fastball to right for a single that made it 2-1. But with runners on first and second, American League Player of the Week Didi Gregorius struck out on three pitches.
Ken Giles struck out Giancarlo Stanton, Gary Sanchez and Aaron Hicks in the ninth. The Yankees struck out 14 times, including three each by Gregorius and Stanton.
“I feel like we’re always, as long as that game’s in reach, we’ve got a shot,” Boone said. “We just didn’t get that hit to push us over the top today, but a good job to hang around and give ourselves a chance at least late.”
It was more offensive frustration in this ballpark for the Yankees, who lost a pair of 2-1 games in Games 1 and 2 of last October’s ALCS, then were outscored 11-1 in Games 6 and 7 here.
But make no mistake: From the Yankees’ standpoint, there were far more positives than not in the game, and it revolved around their starting pitcher.
Gray entered Monday a mess, unable to complete five innings in his previous three games. His struggles were so pronounced that his most recent outing, in which he allowed three runs, six hits and five walks in 4 2⁄3 innings against the Twins, was declared a step forward by Boone.
A real one came against the defending champion Astros, who have one of the sport’s elite lineups. Working mostly ahead of hitters — a rare occurrence in his first five starts — Gray threw 97 pitches, 60 for strikes. He also showed some toughness: With a run home in the fourth, he escaped a second-and-third, none-out jam with no further damage.
“I thought he was really good all night, really,” Boone said.
George Springer led off the first with a single, reached third on a balk and Jose Altuve’s groundout, and scored on Carlos Correa’s groundout.
Altuve led off the fourth with a single, Correa walked and Yuli Gurriel whacked a hanging breaking ball off the leftfield wall for a double that made it 2-0. Josh Reddick grounded to first, and Neil Walker fired home for the first out. Gray walked Alex Bregman to load the bases but Marwin Gonzalez struck out and Brian McCann flied out.
Boone said several times in spring training that he is philosophically against “personal catchers,” but he indicated that’s the way he’ll be going with Gray and Romine in the near future “when it makes sense.”
Gray, who had a 4.63 ERA in eight games with Sanchez and a 1.45 ERA in three games with Romine in 2017, sounded all for it. “I feel good on the mound right now,” he said. “We’ll see kind of where that goes next start.”
The Yankees have scored a total of five runs in their last six games at Minute Maid Park, all losses:
July 2: Astros 8, Yankees 1
ALCS Game 1: Astros 2, Yankees 1
ALCS Game 2: Astros 2, Yankees 1
ALCS Game 6: Astros 7, Yankees 1
ALCS Game 7: Astros 4, Yankees 0
Monday: Astros 2, Yankees 1