HOUSTON – Players from the Yankees and Astros last weekend excitedly discussed the “playofflike” atmosphere at the Stadium during a memorable four-game series split, each of those games containing enough twists, turns and unpredictably to be discussed for years had they taken place in October rather than in June.
Another white-knuckler played out Thursday night and it was the Astros again more than holding their own against the Yankees, taking a 2-1 victory in front of a noisy sellout crowd of 40,674 at Minute Maid Park.
The Yankees (56-21), held in check by yet another Houston starter – in this case Luis Garcia -and four Houston relievers, slipped to 2-3 this season against the Astros (48-27), whom they may well see come October (the case in 2015, 2017 and 2019, all losses by the Yankees).
“You could definitely feel it in New York from the fan base and from the fan base here,” Josh Donaldson said afterward of the intensity. “I don’t think we get more geared up, I think just the environment gets you a little bit more excited about playing.”
Garcia, a 25-year-old who made his big-league debut last season, allowed one run and three hits over 5 1/3 innings in improving to 6-5, 3.54. Ryne Stanek, Hector Neris, Rafael Montero and Ryan Pressly took it from there, with Pressly working a perfect ninth to go 17-for-20 in saves this season.
“We didn’t have a ton of opportunities,” said Aaron Boone, whose team went 0-for-3 with runners in scoring position and stranded seven, getting its lone run on Anthony Rizzo’s 21st homer, a shot in the sixth that made it 2-1. Joey Gallo went 0-for-2 with a walk, making the struggling outfielder hitless in his last 26 at-bats.
Of Astros pitching overall, Boone said: “They’re good. They’re one of the best teams at keeping you from scoring as there is. They’ve done a good job for the most part of holding us down. That’s going to happen sometimes against good teams. We’ll learn from all this and hopefully gain important information from facing their guys [down the road].”
The next time the clubs meet is for a doubleheader here July 21 with, perhaps, another October meeting to come.
“We’re a long ways away from that,” said Donaldson, who went 0-for-4 with three strikeouts, dropping his season average to .225 and OPS to .700. “But it wouldn’t surprise me if that was the case. But we can’t think about that at this moment.”
Luis Severino, who fell to 4-3 with a 3.35 ERA after allowing two runs and three hits over six innings in which he walked two and struck out four, finished strong. After allowing Alex Bregman’s two-run double in the third, Severino retired nine straight to finish his outing.
“This is a good team that doesn’t strike out that much,” Severino said of the difficulty of facing the Astros. “You have to go for contact…you’re not going to get 10, 12 strikeouts.”
After Rizzo struck out to strand two in the third, the Astros loaded the bases in the bottom half and came through.
Jake Meyers took a slider into the gap in right-center for a leadoff double. Martin Maldonado hit a soft liner but right at Gleyber Torres, positioned a few steps to the left of second base. Jose Altuve, who went 5-for-14 (.357) with two homers and two doubles during the four-game series last weekend, flied to short right for the second out. But Severino walked Aledmys Diaz on five pitches and Kyle Tucker on nine pitches, which loaded the bases for Bregman. The third baseman fell behind 0-and-1 before lining a slider off the wall in left, the two-run double making it 2-0. With Yuli Gurriel stepping in, Tucker, who moved to third on the double, noticed Severino altering his cap, apparently trying to hear the PitchCom device better. Tucker took off for home. A surprised-looking Severino recovered and, still fumbling with his hat and trying to corral the ball, lofted one to catcher Jose Trevino, who tagged out the headfirst-sliding Tucker for the inning’s third out, keeping it 2-0.
“I saw him when he was like halfway,” Severino said of not panicking in the situation.
“But I know nobody’s faster than the ball,” he said. “I’m very good with my hands.”