HOUSTON — It was a return to the bad old days of the 2015 American League wild-card game. Or, really, just about any other time the Yankees have faced Houston’s Dallas Keuchel.
The Yankees solved one longtime tormentor in the American League Division Series when they twice beat up Cleveland’s Corey Kluber, but Game 1 of the American League Championship Series showed they still have work to do against Keuchel.
The bearded Astros lefthander has made a career of stumping Yankees hitters and did so again Friday night, pitching seven shutout innings in Houston’s 2-1 Game 1 victory in front of 43,116 fans at Minute Maid Park.
“He didn’t make any mistakes,” Starlin Castro said. “You’re looking for a mistake when you’re up and he didn’t make one.”
Keuchel, who came in 4-2 with a 1.41 ERA in six career regular-season starts against the Yankees, allowed four hits and a walk and struck out 10, joining Mike Scott and Nolan Ryan as the only pitchers in Astros history to record at least 10 strikeouts in a postseason game.
“He just lives on the corner. He doesn’t miss his spot,” said Aaron Judge, who went 1-for-3, including a two-out single in the fifth inning on which Greg Bird was thrown out at the plate. “I don’t think there were too many pitches in the heart of the plate. He likes to live on the edges and he commands it well, mixes speeds well. He just keeps you off balance.”
The Yankees, who got a solid outing from Masahiro Tanaka (two runs and four hits in six innings), got a few chances against Keuchel but stranded five. They went 1-for-5 with runners in scoring position and stranded seven overall.
Keuchel more than resembled the pitcher who routinely dominates the Yankees, including that 2015 wild-card game at the Stadium, when he outdueled Tanaka by allowing three hits in six innings in a 3-0 victory.
“I’m asked that question a lot, and there’s really no hard explanation for it,” Keuchel said of his success against the Yankees. “The Yankees are so storied, they have so much rich history that you almost don’t even have to get up for the game, you’re already up for it. That’s what they bring. They have a lot of talented players and this was supposed to be the bridge year for them and they weren’t supposed to be here, but they are because they are good and they are the Yankees. So for us to get Game 1, I couldn’t ask for anything better, but there’s really no explanation for it.”
Chris Devenski replaced Keuchel to begin the eighth, an inning in which the Yankees got the go-ahead run to the plate.
Devenski walked Brett Gardner with one out, prompting A.J. Hinch to call on Ken Giles for a five-out save. Gardner went to second on a wild pitch but Judge grounded to third. Gary Sanchez walked to bring up Didi Gregorius, whose two homers off Kluber in ALDS Game 5 led the Yankees to the deciding win over the Indians. Giles struck him out swinging at a slider.
Giles struck out Castro and Aaron Hicks to begin the ninth. Bird homered to rightfield after homering twice in the ALDS, but Jacoby Ellsbury, batting for DH Matt Holliday, struck out on a nasty slider to end it. Yankees DHs are 0-for-24 this postseason.
Jose Altuve, considered the AL MVP co-favorite along with Judge, got the first of his three hits in the fourth. He stole second and scored on Carlos Correa’s single. Yuli Gurriel grounded a single up the middle to make it 2-0.
Bird led off the fifth with a single and Altuve booted Holliday’s grounder to put runners on first and second. Keuchel retired the next two batters but Judge ripped a full-count slider to left for a single. Third-base coach Joe Espada sent Bird, never to be confused with the fleet-footed on the bases, and he was nailed at the plate on a perfect throw by Gonzalez to Brian McCann.
“I’m too slow. I wish I was a little faster,” Bird said. “I was running. I feel like I did what I could do. What are you going to do? He made a good throw.”
Joe Girardi — mindful of the heat he took when he failed to challenge a hit-by-pitch call in ALDS Game 2 — asked for a review, which upheld the call.
“We thought he was out,’’ he said, “but God knows I’m not doing that again.’’