HOUSTON — The Yankees got a break in this regard, and only in this regard.
A trip with seemingly a half-season’s worth of soul-crushing one-run defeats concluded with an old-fashioned blowout loss on Sunday afternoon as the Yankees fell to the Astros, 8-1, in front of a sellout crowd of 41,761.
“We’re at a frustrating part of our year,” Joe Girardi said. “I think this week is really important for us at home to get things turned around and win games that we’re supposed to. You look at this stretch of three weeks, we’ve lost some games where we had the lead, and that’s pretty frustrating. It’s a long year. A three-week period doesn’t make a season.”
Though in some ways the loss was an example of a young team getting a reminder that it has a ways to go before being in the same conversation as the Astros (56-27), it’s worth remembering that the Yankees did blow out Houston, 13-4, on Friday night and did lead Saturday night’s game 6-3 in the eighth inning before Dellin Betances imploded and Aroldis Chapman allowed the winning hit in a 7-6 loss.
Nonetheless, the Yankees (43-37) limped home after a 3-4 trip — which started with a four-game split with the awful White Sox — three games behind the AL East-leading Red Sox.
When the Yankees reached their high-water mark at 38-23 on June 12, they led the Red Sox by four games. Since then, they have gone 5-14 to Boston’s 12-7. Since the 20-5 streak that lifted them to 21-9, the Yankees are 22-28.
“Nobody’s as disappointed how the last few weeks have gone than the guys in this room,” Brett Gardner said. “That being said, we’re only a couple games out of first place. We have had a good first half. Thank goodness we got off to a good start.”
Luis Severino, the Yankees’ best pitcher in the first half, had little command of his slider, his best pitch. Severino, who came in 5-3 with a 3.15 ERA, including 3-1 with a 2.77 ERA in his previous 10 starts, allowed a season-worst six runs and a season-worst nine hits in 5 1⁄3 innings.
“I’m 80 percent fastball/slider, so when my slider’s not working, I have to go with my changeup,” he said. “My changeup is good right now, but it’s not like my slider.”
He was far from the afternoon’s main issue. The Yankees did a fine job of driving up the pitch count of Astros righthander Mike Fiers but were unable to score against him. Through three innings, Fiers had thrown 85 pitches and stranded six.
After Didi Gregorius worked a one-out walk in the third, Astros pitchers retired 15 straight before Aaron Judge picked up his second hit, a one-out single in the eighth. By then, the Astros, who had 14 hits, led 8-0.
The Yankees struck out 13 times against six Astros pitchers, went 1-for-10 with runners in scoring position and left nine on base. Chase Headley doubled and scored on Chris Carter’s broken-bat single to right in the ninth as the Yankees remained one of two teams — the Nationals are the other — that haven’t been shut out this season.
Carlos Correa had four hits and three RBIs for the Astros. Marwin Gonzalez and Yuli Gurriel each hit a two-run homer.
Gonzalez’s blast made it 2-0 in the second and Josh Reddick added an RBI double later in the inning. Correa’s two-out, two-run double in the fourth made it 5-0.
“Obviously, the last few weeks haven’t gone the way we would have hoped,” Gardner said. “We do have a week left before the All-Star break, we’ll be playing at home. It would have been nice to win this series against the Astros, but they have a great team . . . Overall, we’ve had a good first half, and we don’t need to beat ourselves up too much. We just need to get back to playing the way we know we’re capable of playing.”