HOUSTON — It is harder to imagine a more perfect postseason baseball game than this one: tense and taut; two teams desperate for victory for different reasons; a howling, baying, pleading crowd that spent much of the night alternating between passing out and raining thunder.
It was more perfect for the Astros, of course. Carlos Correa made it that way in the bottom of the 11th inning, launching the first pitch he saw from J.A. Happ over the right-field wall, an opposite-field blast that gave Houston a 3-2 win and delivers both teams back to New York with this best-of-seven AL Championship Series tied at a game apiece.
“This was an epic game with everything on the line,” said Astros manager A.J. Hinch, after the Astros had dog-piled Correa at home plate, after the Yankees had trudged off the field, after the deafening gathering of 43,359 had emptied their larynxes one last time, trying to throw their voices all the way to the South Bronx. Knowing the Bronx will happily return serve Tuesday afternoon.
“What a big win,” said Hinch.
For the Yankees, it wasn’t as devastating a loss as it could have been because they did what they came here to do on Saturday, clinching a split of these opening two games, taking away the home-field advantage. Still, it felt like the Astros were vulnerable so much of the night, even with Justin Verlander on the mound.
“We knew this wasn’t going to be easy,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said.
Boone will be criticized in certain circles because he pulled James Paxton in the third inning after he’d only gotten seven outs and allowed the Astros to take a 1-0 lead, Correa making the first of three game-changing plays he would collect this night, scoring a run with a double. But Boone was merely following the blueprint the Yankees have committed to all October: The strength of the team is the bullpen. And it is the bullpen that will carry them or crush them.
It worked perfectly for four games.
It wound up blowing up on them Sunday, when they ran out of their top-shelf relievers by the end of regulation, when they needed three pitchers to escape the 10th, when they handed the game over to Happ, who has been exiled from the rotation to a low-leverage bullpen role for a reason.
“You’re playing to win the game,” Boone said. “You’re not playing for what might happen in the 13th inning.”
It was that aggression that nearly carried the day in the sixth inning. Verlander started the game brilliantly, retiring the first nine Yankees in order, then surrendered a towering two-run blast to Aaron Judge in the fourth. By the sixth, tied at 2-2, he was tiring, and there were runners on first and second and two outs when Brett Gardner hit a sharp grounder to second that Jose Altuve booted.
“My first instinct,” Verlander said, “was to say, ‘Crap!’ ”
DJ LeMahieu came roaring around third base, urged home by third base coach Phil Nevin. Boone thought the ball bounded farther away than it did — “I thought it was an absolute send,” Boone said — then saw Correa at short corral the ball, fire it home, and get LeMahieu by five steps. The Yankees never came quite so close again.
“When I saw that they were sending him,” Correa said later, laughing, “I said, ‘Thank you.’ ”
The Astros had plenty of chances to send everyone home earlier, and the more chances they squandered, the more it felt like the locals might be bidding farewell to a 2019 season in which the home team won 107 games and looked like an easy-money favorite to return to the World Series.
In the 10th, after CC Sabathia made a one-hitter cameo, Jonathan Loaisiga walked Altuve and Alex Bregman. The Yankees looked like they were hemorrhaging oil. But Happ, summoned from the edge of irrelevance, got two huge outs.
In the top of the 11th, the Yankees returned the favor, got two on with two outs. Josh James engaged in an epic at-bat with Gary Sanchez that included just about everything: a towering pop-up that hit the roof; a swing-and-a-miss for strike three that home-plate umpire Carey Blaser insisted had been foul-tipped (it hadn’t); then a borderline call for strike three with which Sanchez took issue.
Five minutes later, Happ threw, Correa swung, the ball soared into the right-field bleachers, and an almost perfect game had ended perfectly — for everyone but the nine men in gray walking off the field.
“Two incredible teams,” Hinch said. “One incredible game.”
So close to a sweep for the Yankees. They’ll take the split. And take their chances back home, everything still on the line.
Source : Link