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SportsColumnistsAnthony Rieber

High-intensity Yankees-Astros series could be preview of October spotlight

Gary Sanchez of the Yankees tags out Carlos

Gary Sanchez of the Yankees tags out Carlos Correa of the Houston Astros at the plate during the fourth inning at Yankee Stadium on Wednesday, May 5, 2021. Credit: Jim McIsaac

There were about 1,000 fewer fans in the stands on Wednesday night for the second game of the Yankees-Astros series at Yankee Stadium.

That’s a shame. Not because there were fewer people to boo Jose Altuve and the rest of the cheating Astros, but because Wednesday night’s 6-3 Yankees victory was much less a media-fueled spectacle and much more of a terrific, hard-fought baseball game between two very good clubs who we can only hope will meet again in October.

That’s when the Yankees – winners of the first two games of this series – can truly get their revenge for what the Astros did to them and baseball in 2017.

Yankees fans proved again on Wednesday that they are, more than anything, lovers of fair play, as they filled the air in the Bronx with R-rated chants directed at Altuve, Alex Bregman, and the rest of the Astros.

Whether the outrage was real or contrived because of all the attention this series has garnered is a fair question. Something tells me that 99% of the Yankees fans who jeered at Altuve would stop yelling if they ever met him in person and ask for an autograph.

But the Astros’ sign-stealing shenanigans were real and will follow the franchise and players around forever. That’s well-deserved.

Tuesday’s game featured booing and chanting the likes of which have rarely been seen and certainly not with a 20% reduced-capacity crowd.

"It was pretty intense," Yankees catcher Kyle Higashioka said. "It felt like a playoff game. Obviously, the fans are still pretty upset about what happened, which, you know, rightly so, but it was very crazy. It's actually pretty fun to be part of.

"The fans were as loud as I've ever heard. Twenty percent capacity - it was actually pretty impressive because I thought that level of sound was on par with probably the last playoff game that I experienced here."

Oh, Kyle, you ain’t heard nothin’ yet. Imagine if the Astros and Yankees meet in the playoffs this October, when the stands will be filled to 100% capacity and, hopefully, masks and social distancing will be a thing of the past.

Wednesday night’s game was a preview of what a Yankees-Astros playoff series could be on the field and not just in the stands.

There was the continued unconscious hitting of Giancarlo Stanton, who gave the Yankees a 2-0 lead in the third with his eighth home run.

There was a three-run fourth inning by the Astros, who aren’t as talented as the 2017 or 2019 teams but who aren’t going to be an easy out for anyone.

Stanton tied it in the fifth with a clutch two-out double.

Then it became a battle of the bullpens, and if the Yankees get to the late innings tied they have as good a chance as anyone.

The Yankees got the first two men on in the seventh, but Astros righthander Bryan Abreu struck out Aaron Judge, part of Judge’s 0-for-5, five-strikeout night.

Gio Urshela grounded into an inning-ending double play, which could have brought back fears of the Yankees’ early-season struggles -- if they weren’t playing so well lately.

In the top of the eighth, Jonathan Loaisiga showed why he is becoming a devastating late-inning option by striking out Alutve on a 3-and-2 changeup and retiring the next two batters with ease.

In the bottom of the eighth, against lefthander Brooks Raley, Gleyber Torres singled, pinch hitter Clint Frazier walked after falling behind 0-and-2, and Aaron Hicks poked the go-ahead single to right.

Brett Gardner added a sacrifice fly and Stanton finished his remarkable three-hit, four-RBI night with a two-out RBI single to give Aroldis Chapman a cushion he probably didn’t need.

Game 3 is Thursday afternoon with Gerrit Cole – a member of the 2018-‘19 Astros – facing his old team as the Yankees go for the sweep.

"It’s been intense," Yankees manager Aaron Boone said. "It’s been fun . . . These (games) certainly feel big."

May big. Not October big. Not yet.

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