The Houston Astros celebrate after a combined no-hitter against the...

The Houston Astros celebrate after a combined no-hitter against the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium, Saturday, June 25, 2022, in New York.  Credit: AP/Noah K. Murray

Looks as if  Houston is going to be a problem. Again.

The last time the Astros had thrown a party on the Bronx turf, as they did after Saturday’s combined no-hitter in  a 3-0 victory over the Yankees, was in 2015, when Dallas Keuchel beat Masahiro Tanaka in the American League wild-card game.

The Yankees have lost twice to the Astros in the ALCS since then, but both of those postseason runs ended at Minute Maid Park. At home, in their own Bronx backyard, things like this just sting a little more, and the defending AL champion Astros are fully aware of that. They savor every New York minute of it.

When Giancarlo Stanton rolled over Ryan Pressly's curveball, smacking a grounder to third that sealed the eighth no-hitter ever thrown against the Yankees, the jubilant Astros celebrated on the mound as if this were October — not late June — and they had just won the World Series.

Afterward, through the closed clubhouse door, you could hear the music blaring, followed by loud cheers. Cristian Javier, basically the Astros’ No. 7 starter, struck out 13 in seven innings and handcuffed the Yankees so completely that there’s little doubt he would have finished the job if not for his skyrocketing pitch count, a career-high 115.

No matter. Hector Neris, whose frustration over Alex Tosi’s amoeba-like strike zone nearly caused him to spontaneously combust, stranded two in the eighth and Pressly — the ninth-inning arsonist of Thursday’s four-run meltdown loss — whiffed two before Stanton’s grounder made the no-no official. It was the first against the Yankees since the Astros used six pitchers in their 2003 no-hitter, which was across the street in the old building.

Of course, the Astros spent most of the postgame heaping praise on Javier, who goes by the nickname “reptile” for his cold-blooded demeanor on the mound. But when catcher Martin Maldonado was asked when he knew this might be a special day — clearly in reference to Javier’s skills — he had something else on his mind.

Said Maldonado, “Every time we play the Yankees is a special day.”

And now that the Astros have beaten baseball’s best team twice in the Bronx?

“We love this atmosphere,” Maldonado said. “We love games like this. A lot of people were talking about the Yankees and not saying much about the Astros. I feel like we’re still the same team. We love competing out there and we felt like these were playoff games coming into this series.”

The Astros have handed the Yankees back-to-back losses for the only the third time this season and first since dropping two to the Rays in the Bronx nearly a month ago (May 28-29). Pressly talked about how many of the players couldn’t sleep after blowing Thursday’s three-run lead in the ninth, but Houston deployed Justin Verlander to snap the Yankees’ 15-game home winning streak Friday — their longest since 1961 — and  now have held them to a whopping total of one run in two games at the Stadium, where the Yankees were 30-8 and boasted a .772 OPS.

“This team has been there and done it,” Pressly said. “We’ve played in a lot of really big games. We know how to bounce back and we know how to take care of business when stuff doesn’t go our way. Flush it and come back the next day ready to go.”

   

The Astros also seem bulletproof to the boos, especially  5-6 sparkplug Jose Altuve, known in these parts as the guy who stole* Aaron Judge’s MVP during their barrel-banging title year in 2017. Altuve is mercilessly hounded by booing every time he steps to the plate — or even gets anywhere close to the baseball — but he seems to be thriving on all that hate.

Altuve homered  off Michael King in the eighth inning Saturday to add a big insurance run and is 4-for-11 in the series, also with two doubles, two walks and three runs scored. The boos aren’t having the desired effect.

“Sooner or later, they’ll leave him alone,” Astros manager Dusty Baker said, smiling.

Doubtful. But Altuve  again is nightmare fuel for the Yankees, as are the Astros, who appear to be resistant to the dominance flexed by Aaron Boone & Co. over the rest of the major leagues this season. In case anyone forgot, the Astros have been to the World Series in three of the past five years and lost in the ALCS the other two. They’ve already slashed the Yankees’ margin for home-field advantage down to 6 1/2 games and continue to get healthier. Oh, and the Astros managed to outlast their old pal Gerrit Cole for Saturday’s win, handing him the L thanks to J.J. Matijevic turning on a 100-mph fastball for  a second-deck shot in the seventh inning.

With the Astros now on the verge of taking this series in the Bronx, it’s a reminder to the Yankees that the potential road to title No. 28 ultimately is going to go through Houston.

“That’s certainly a fair outlook,” Cole said. “Obviously a complete team. We all know that good pitching and defense wins a lot of games in October. Obviously, you’re going to have to clutch hitting and magical offense as well, but there’s just not a lot of weaknesses over there. They can beat you in a lot of different ways, the same way we can beat you in a lot of different ways. So certainly a fair assumption, but we have to get there first.”

 The Astros seem to already be looking forward to that.