Now THAT is more like it. The Yankees defeated the Astros 4-1 (box) on Friday night behind the left arm of James Paxton. The series is now 3-2, and we will return to Houston for a Game 6 tomorrow night. I would say that I’m sorry that these takeaways took me so long, but I am not sorry. They took so long because I have spent the last few hours pumped up and pacing my apartment, which didn’t feel like the best time to write. May we get two more games in this series just like this one.
Let’s get right to the takeaways.
1. Big Game James (Paxton): When Brian Cashman traded for James Paxton last November, in hindsight at the expense of signing Patrick Corbin, it was to be a frontline starter for a championship-caliber New York Yankees team. That is not an easy task. It comes with an expectation that you will perform on the biggest stage under the brightest lights. While I understand that tonight’s game was not a World Series game, it’s difficult to imagine a non-World Series game with bigger stakes: taking the ball with a 3-1 deficit at Yankee Stadium facing Justin Verlander. And boy oh boy did James Paxton deliver.
Here was his line on the night, in what can only be described as a triumphant performance for the lefty: 6.0 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 4 BB, 9 K. Of his 112 pitches, just 74 (64%) went for strikes, but much like Gerrit Cole did three days ago, James Paxton limited the damage and held down the fort. Here is his strike zone plot:
According to Brooks Baseball, Paxton generated 20 whiffs on 55 swings (36%) which will get the damn job done. His maximum velocity was 97 mph. It was a big-time performance. Anyway, on to the specifics.
More first inning trouble for James. After reaching base on a misplayed soft grounder lead off the game (it was ruled a single), Springer would come around to score on a wild pitch from Paxton. That was all the Astros would get. He settled down, allowed just 3 more hits, and would strike out 9 batters. There were pitches like this:
But none of these are the defining moment of this game. That one came in the 6th inning. With Carlos Correa on base and Yordan Álvarez up, Paxton had about 100 pitches. He would retire the struggling rookie on strikes, and then Aaron Boone came out to remove him. And then this happened:
The crowd booed Boone as he came out to remove him and Paxton was feeling it. He told Boone to go back where he came from, and as I said on Twitter at the time, I absolutely loved it and thought it was the right decision. Robinson Chirinos came up to bat and launched a 100 mph fly ball off the bat that, if this were the regular season ball, would have been a home run…but was instead a harmless out that died on the track. And like that, James Paxton’s night was over. And what a night it was.
2. A First Inning Breakthrough…off Justin Verlander: In 7 postseason appearances against the Yankees, Justin Verlander had never lost a game. That dates 13 seasons, and across 4 series (this being the 5th), the Yankees have never even beaten his team. Detriot eliminated New York in 2006, 2011, 2012, and the Astros, of course, ended the Yanks’ season in 2017. Verlander has played a huge role in each of those series and has seemingly always deflated New York.
There is still a long way to go in this series, but that backdrop is why Yankee Stadium sounded as loud as I can remember it sounding in tonight’s first inning. After Paxton gave up the lead in the top of the first, it would have been easy to assume that the Yankees would lie down. But lie down they did not. Here is how DJ “It’s French For ‘Derek Jeter'” LeMahieu led off the game:
Of course it was DJ, who has been just as reliably consistent in the postseason as he was in the offseason. What a truly tremendous baseball player. After that, Judge lined a single and Torres ripped a double down the left field line. Giancarlo struck out. That brought up Aaron Hicks–who, you might remember, I wasn’t convinced deserved a shot after missing so much time. Dear reader, I am an idiot. A true moron. He is having the most consistently great at-bats on the Yankees, and tonight was no exception. It was a six-pitch at-bat, and the sixth pitch was an absolute missile off the foul pole in right field that gave the Yankees a 4-1 lead. There are a few angles here worth showing. Here is the official video:
Here is the Sterling call:
Here is the raw Stadium audio:
That is just so beautiful. It was a no-doubter. The only thing that was in question was whether or not it would be fair. My personal favorite part? Verlander’s little collapse on the mound there. He knew. I knew. Hicks knew. Everyone knew.
Finally, I would be remiss to not point out that this was the exact same script as the previous two games. The top part of the order put traffic on the basepaths against the Astros starter, except this time, they capitalized. And as we saw, that’s critically important–because you never know when you get another chance. Tonight, the Yankees didn’t get another chance, but I don’t think we’ll be hearing much about the Yankees postseason failures. Funny what just one at-bat can do to a narrative.
3. A Big Time Performance from the Bullpen: After Paxton was removed from the game, Boone turned to the bullpen for 9 outs against the Astros. He first turned to Kahnle, which makes sense, but Tommy Tightpants did not have it. He got a first out, then surrendered a hit to Springer and walked Altuve. With the tying run at the plate in the form of Michael Brantley, Boone made the right decision and went to Zack Britton. He got a groundout that was almost a double play, which then brought up Alex Bregman. Folks, if you want a marquee matchup, you got one. Britton got Bregman to fly out to Hicks in center, and that was that. Just a huge performance from Britton, who also retired the side in order (with 2 Ks) in the top of the 8th. Aroldis Chapman retired the side in order in the 9th, and we are heading to Houston.
A few notes on this: when the Yankees say their super bullpen is going to get the job done, this is exactly what they have in mind. Those were big boy innings right there, and Britton and Chapman were up to the task. Here’s another benefit. Check out the pitch counts:
- Tommy Kahnle: 8 pitches
- Zack Britton: 18 pitches
- Aroldis Chapman: 9 pitches
I know Kahnle was ineffective, but the relatively short bullpen stints for all of them–and complete rest for Green, who I expect will start tomorrow–mean they’ll all be 100% able to go tomorrow. A truly great performance right there.
- Lineup Woes: Man, aside from the top 3 batters in DJLM, Judge, and Gleyber, the Yankees lineup just continued to struggle tonight. They went a combined 1-18 (.055) with 8 strikeouts (including 3 more from Gary). The one hit? Well, I already showed that one above. Goes to show you how, again, just capitalizing once can make a world of a difference. Anyway, hopefully the entire lineup wakes up tomorrow and roars back to life. That sure would be nice.
- Justin Verlander’s Performance: I also have to tip my cap to Justin Verlander, as much as I truly cannot stand him. He is my least favorite athlete right now and I have a true healthy sports hate for the guy. That’s because he terrifies me and has carved up the Yankees for years. There’s nothing else to it. But yet again, he showed why he is one of the best in the business. He not only settled down, but he provided serious length and allowed all of the Astros’ big relievers to rest for tomorrow’s bullpen day. That’s something to remember tomorrow, but for now we just enjoy it. There was also this:
Folks, we have a Game 6. The Yankees and Astros will depart for Houston after this game and we will be right back here tomorrow at 8:08 pm. Both teams will be relying on their bullpens–baseball is so weird now–and the Yankees will try to fight off elimination for one more night. I think they should do that, but hey, that’s just one guy’s opinion.