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SportsColumnistsDavid Lennon

Astros’ bats wake up, tripping alarm for Yankees

Yuli Gurriel scores on a two-run double by

Yuli Gurriel scores on a two-run double by Houston's Alex Bregman in the eighth inning as the relay throw gets away from Yankees catcher Gary Sanchez. The Astros scored four runs in the inning on the way to a 7-1 victory over the Yankees in Game 6 of the ALCS on Friday, Oct. 20, 2017, at Minute Maid Park. Credit: Newsday / J. Conrad Williams Jr.

HOUSTON

The World Series is still there waiting for the Yankees, the path to Los Angeles clearly marked. That’s the good news.

The bad? The safety net is gone, shredded by the Astros’ 7-1 rout in Friday night’s Game 6, a sobering defeat for the Yankees that also raised some concerns heading into Saturday night’s Game 7 at Minute Maid Park.

Fortunately for the Yankees, Justin Verlander will be watching that one from the dugout and can’t torment them anymore. Otherwise, there was nothing positive to take away from such a smackdown, a Texas-size stomping that turned ugly when the Astros tattooed a hapless David Robertson during a four-run eighth inning.

“I just went out there and got my butt kicked,” said Robertson, who pitched to four batters and allowed a home run, two doubles and a single. “They were all over me. Every pitch I threw, they hit.”

You don’t hear those words often from Robertson, and that’s the worrisome part. Dismissed as softies in the Bronx, where they cowered like a pack of frightened tourists during the Yankees’ three-game sweep, the Astros got to flex some muscle Friday at their cozy dome, first getting to Luis Severino, then Robertson later to ice the game.

If not for Verlander, who fiercely protected a 3-0 lead through seven scoreless innings — barely hanging on for 99 pitches — maybe this Game 6 would have turned out differently. The Yankees could have cracked a lesser pitcher. And if George Springer hadn’t made a leaping catch at the centerfield wall in front of the 404-foot mark to rob Todd Frazier of extra bases — and potentially two RBIs — the Yankees might have wounded Verlander, too.

“I thought it was gone,” Frazier said. “That was one of the best balls I squared up all postseason. It just died.”

The power outage was a familiar feeling for the Yankees, who have scored a total of three runs in three games at Minute Maid Park in this series. What’s worse is that the Astros scored seven in Game 6, nearly matching their entire production for the previous five games.

Everyone knew Houston had the potential to do this. The Astros were the top offensive team in the majors during the regular season. But to see Brian McCann, who was 2-for-26 in the playoffs, rip Severino for an RBI double for the game’s first run in the fifth was unsettling. As was the resurgence of Jose Altuve, who went hitless in the Bronx but chased Severino with a two-out, two-run single and later clubbed a Robertson slider over the leftfield wall.

“As soon as we started playing,” Altuve said, “we forgot about the last three games in New York.”

It’s a dangerous thing, letting a team off the canvas like that. Ask the Indians. But all the Astros apparently needed was to flee the Big Apple for more friendly confines, and with Verlander mowing through the Yankees again, just as he did in Game 2, he bought them enough time to get their swings in working order.

Robertson didn’t record an out as the Astros reeled off four consecutive hits. Maybe Joe Girardi should have had a quicker hook, knowing that he’ll need him for Game 7. But as Robertson pointed out, despite the damage, he threw only 12 pitches.

Other than Chad Green, who chipped in with 2[/DROPCAP] 1⁄3 scoreless innings to keep it close, the Yankees should have their full complement of relievers to back CC Sabathia for Game 7, which sets up as a war of attrition between the two bullpens with Charlie Morton going for the Astros. Don’t be surprised to see Dallas Keuchel and Lance McCullers Jr. in relief cameos.

The Yankees are built to win a showdown like that, and their confidence wasn’t dented by the Game 6 loss. This is still the team that shook off a 3-0 first-inning deficit to beat the Twins in the wild-card game and climbed out of an 0-2 hole, with their manager under siege, to shock the top-seeded Indians in the ALDS. The Yankees are poised to do the improbable again to the Astros, who once had a 2-0 edge in the this ALCS. It’s just going to be a little harder after Friday.

“We would have liked to wrap things up tonight,” Brett Gardner said. “But it wasn’t meant to be.”

Now it’s down to one final chance.

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