Winter is suddenly calling the running-on-fumes Yankees
By the bottom of the ninth, Yankee Stadium was mostly abandoned, even the fiercest members of the faithful figuring that as midnight approached, it was best to try to make a quick escape to the Deegan, or to the 4 train. The chill that swirled around the ballpark all night had felt a little too much like winter.
It wasn't just the bottom of the ninth. Suddenly, it is the bottom of the baseball season. Suddenly, the Yankees' toes are tickling the edge of the abyss. The Astros beat them 8-3, but the Yankees also beat themselves, picking the worst time to turn in their worst fielding game of the year (four errors), seeing the offense that fueled 103 wins during the season and four more in October continue to sputter and leak oil.
They are down 3-1 in games in this best-of-seven American League Championship Series, and if they are going to buy themselves another day, at least, of October they're going to have to beat Justin Verlander, who will finish either first or second in the AL Cy Young voting - knowing the other half of that ballot, Gerrit Cole, will await them in Houston.
And that's the BEST-CASE scenario.
The Yankees are running on fumes, and need to find a whole lot of answers in a hurry. As an old Yankee named Yogi once put it: It's getting late early out there.
When Masahiro Tanaka strode to the mound, he was given a hero's welcome by the 49,067 folks shoehorned into Yankee Stadium. Actually, it was more like a savior's welcome. Tanaka has slowly built a postseason résumé that can stand with just about every great pitcher in Yankees history, entering with a 5-2 record and a 1.32 ERA in seven postseason starts.
Tanaka was fine for two innings, allowing only a walk, but then he did something quite uncharacteristic: He stumbled against the bottom of the Astros' batting order in the top of the third. He walked Robinson Chirinos - he of the Blutarsky-esque .000 batting average in the series to that point - then allowed a stinging single to ninth-place hitter Josh Reddick.
Part of Tanaka's appeal, of course, is that he often works his way into trouble but, almost as often, finds a way to sneak out of it. Not this time. This time, he fed George Springer a pitch that got a little bit too much of the plate and he destroyed it, 408 feet over the left-field wall.
That made it a 3-1 game. It probably should have made it a 3-2 game or a 3-3 game, but for the second game in a row the Yankees couldn't maximize a bases-loaded opportunity in the bottom of the first inning. Astros starter Zack Greinke was off his game from the jump, couldn't find the plate at all, wound up walking in a run but wiggled out of a major calamity when he struck out Gary Sanchez to end the inning.
It wouldn't be the last time the Yankees squandered golden opportunity. In the fifth, they finally chased Greinke when, with one out, DJ LeMahieu singled and Aaron Judge walked. Ryan Pressly relieved and promptly walked Aaron Hicks to load the bases with one out. The crowd, at last given a reason to roar, tried to shake a few runs out of Pressly and the Astros.
But Gleyber Torres - so brilliant for so much of this postseason - struck out on a check swing, and Edwin Encarnacion followed suit, and the Stadium hushed itself in an instant. Not long after, Carlos Correa - who's only other hit of the series had been a walk-off homer that ended Game 2 - crushed a fastball from Chad Green to left. It was 6-1.
And the winter slowly started to drift into Yankee Stadium.
Sanchez briefly awakened the grieving masses by hitting a two-run shot in the botton of the sixth to narrow the gap to 6-3, but the Astros got their insurance in the eighth when the Yankees kicked the ball around and poor Adam Ottavino got booed off the mound.
In what became an unexpectedly poignant moment, Aaron Boone summoned CC Sabathia for what may well have already been his last appearance as a Yankee, but then became almost assuredly so when Sabathia tweaked his shoulder delivering pitch to Springer with the bases loaded. He walked off the field to a loud ovation.
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