Yankees' Juan Soto celebrates after hitting an RBI single during...

Yankees' Juan Soto celebrates after hitting an RBI single during the ninth inning of the team's baseball game against the Houston Astros, Sunday, March 31, 2024, in Houston. Credit: AP/Kevin M. Cox

HOUSTON — The crowd appeared to sense it, the reality of the moment settling in.

When Gleyber Torres looped a two-out single to rightfield in the ninth inning off Josh Hader on Sunday, a worrisome buzz pulsated among the 36,908 inside Minute Maid Park.

There was a buzz in the home dugout, too. “Once GT got on,’’ Aaron Judge said, “we had a pretty good feeling.”

Torres reaching base meant an inning extended and Juan Soto coming up with a chance to do damage with the score tied.

Just about everyone — very much including the Yankees — seemed to know what was coming.

First, Torres got a tremendous jump and easily stole second. He said he did it on his own, especially with Hader all but ignoring him, and added that because of who was at the plate, he had to get into scoring position.

Soto took it from there, lining a single to left on a full-count sinker away to drive in Torres, who had taken off for third on the pitch.

A rickety Clay Holmes, saved twice by his defense and once by what could have been a game-winning double landing inches foul, nonetheless earned his third save with a scoreless bottom of the ninth as the Yankees completed a four-game sweep of the Astros with a 4-3 victory.

“I always want to be up in that situation,” Soto said. “I mean, that’s what we play for. We all know there’s going to be times where you fail, sometimes you’re going to have success. But I always want to be up there. I don’t mind to be up there and get all the boos or all the claps. I’m always ready for it.”

After going 3-for-5, Soto is 9-for-17 with a .529/.600/.765 slash line, a 1.365 OPS and four RBIs. Said Judge: “I don’t see why you would ever want to pitch to that guy.”

Of the dugout feeling with Soto coming up in a big spot and the inevitability of success, Alex Verdugo said: “You feel good when he’s up there, I won’t lie to you. You feel really good. He’s one of those guys that, he’s just special, man. Doesn’t matter lefty, righty; the way he controls the zone, knows himself and doesn’t let the moment get too big in any moment, it’s very impressive and it’s something I’m happy he’s on our team.”

Holmes, saved in Thursday’s season opener when Soto threw out Mauricio Dubon at the plate to preserve a one-run lead in the ninth, was saved Sunday by third baseman Jon Berti for the first out of the ninth and by Verdugo to end the game.

Holmes allowed singles by Jeremy Pena and pinch hitter Victor Caratini to begin the inning. That engendered a sense of dread among Yankees fans — similar to what their Astros counterparts felt with Soto coming up — as Jose Altuve strolled to the plate.

Altuve, responsible for his share of the Yankees’ October disappointment over the years and already with a homer and double in this game, yanked one down the third-base line. But Berti made a diving backhand stop — preventing the tying run from scoring and possibly the winning run, too — and stepped on third base for the first out.

On Holmes’ second pitch to lefthanded-hitting Yordan Alvarez, he sent a flare down the leftfield line that landed foul by inches (Verdugo estimated it was foul by “an inch”). Had it been fair, it likely would have won the game. Alvarez then blasted a 3-and-1 pitch to center, where Judge made the catch just in front of the 399-foot sign, with pinch runner Dubon moving to third.

On the next pitch, Kyle Tucker sent a sinking liner to left, where Verdugo made a sliding catch to give Holmes one of the odder saves of his career.

“Beautiful,” Soto said of Verdugo’s play. “He just won the game for us. That was pretty cool. Really close game. Verdugo and Berti, they made those nice plays. It takes everybody to win a game. That shows you right there, it’s not only my hit, it’s the defense, too, from everybody.”

The Yankees’ last 4-0 start to a season came in 2003.

“I mean, it’s early, but any time you can go on the road against a great opponent and pull off a four-game sweep, that’s nothing to sneeze at,’’ Aaron Boone said. “So really excited. Makes for a good flight to Arizona to another really good team. We just have to keep going.”

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