Going into last night’s game, I was oddly zen. It seemed that everyone was nervous for the game…and rightly so. The ALCS is more intense than the ALDS and the long wait for Game One gave people time to build it up. Additionally, while the Minnesota Twins were a good team, they were not the Houston Astros.
With an equally formidable lineup, they’d be a tough task for the Yankee pitching staff. With a three-headed starting pitching monster, they’d be an even tougher task for the lineup. Yet I still felt calm before the game. The biggest worry I had leading up to the game was where we were going to order food from (we ended up getting pizza and a calzone).
Does the final score of this game justify my lack of nerves? Sort of? The game was close until it wasn’t, especially when the Yankees’ starter, Masahiro Tanaka, was in the game. However, I got my first piece of vindication, the first taste of victory, in the fourth inning.
In the top of the fourth, the Yankees scored thanks to a Gleyber Torres double to the left-center field gap. While they couldn’t get Gleyber home from second, the Yankees still had the game’s first run: important in its own right, but all the more so with the Astros sending up the top of their lineup in the fourth.
Going into the inning, despite how early it was, I thought that if Tanaka could get through it unscathed, the Yankees would be free and clear. They already had a lead and it seemed like they were getting Astros starter Zack Greinke to crack. If they got through the Astros’ 1-2-3, they would only need Tanaka to face the middle of the order one more time, which would mean he could handle the bottom of the lineup, too, before it turned over and he turned it over to the bullpen. So how did it go?
To lead off the inning, Tanaka got George Springer to strike out swinging on a well-placed, full count slider. Next, Michael Brantley lined out to Giancarlo Stanton in deep left. That brought up Jose Altuve, who fell behind with a swinging strike, then worked to a 3-1 count. After two foul balls, he, too, was sent down with a slider and the inning was over. And in a way, so was the game.
The Yankees didn’t add any runs in the fifth, but the bottom half was quick thanks to Aaron Judge’s right field heroics, turning a Yordan Alvarez liner into a double play. They did add runs in the sixth and seventh and I thought they’d let Tanaka ride after that, but they played it a little safer by going to the bullpen. While I would like to have seen Tanaka get some more burn–he was pitching well and the team had a big lead–it felt good to be vindicated on my fourth inning hunch (which, by the way, I called in the blog’s Slack channel).
Predictably, Masahrio Tanaka turned in a wonderful playoff pitching performance. That’s just his thing now, isn’t it? While the extra runs later on and the great Judge play will overshadow it, the fourth inning sealed the Yankees’ victory.