Game 2 certainly felt like a missed opportunity for the New York Yankees, who were just one big play away from taking the first two games of the ALCS in Houston before returning home to the friendly confines in the Bronx.
But on Sunday night — and into Monday morning — the Astros bullpen outdueled the Yankees’ vaunted group of relievers as Carlos Correa got Houston on the board in the series with a walk-off, 11th-inning home run on the very first pitch he saw from JA Happ.
Still, the Yankees are in an advantageous situation returning home with the series tied at one game apiece. The next three come at Yankee Stadium, beginning on Tuesday night.
While Aaron Boone has received some flack from Yankees fans on how he handled Game 2, expect more of the same from the New York skipper as the series progresses, especially in Game 3.
The Astros will be rolling out ace Gerrit Cole on Tuesday evening; a right-handed talent that has been the best pitcher in baseball over the past four-and-a-half months.
In his final 22 starts of the regular season, Cole went 16-0 with a 1.78 ERA with 226 strikeouts in 146.1 innings of work.
He kept that obscene momentum going in the postseason as he dominated the Tampa Bay Rays in the ALDS.
In two starts (15.2 innings), the 29-year-old allowed a single run (0.57 ERA) while striking out 25.
Not only was the most strikeouts in ALDS history, but Cole became just the sixth pitcher in MLB history (Bob Gibson on three-separate occasions, Mike Mussina, Sandy Koufax, Curt Schilling, and Bill Dinneen) to record 25 or more strikeouts during a single postseason series.
This will be Cole’s first meeting with the Yankees since Apr. 9, which was just his third start of the season. At Minute Maid Park, he went seven innings while allowing three runs on four hits while striking out six.
Astros manager AJ Hinch will attempt to impose the same strategy with Cole as he did in Game 2 with Verlander, keeping the veteran on for 109 pitches over 6.2 innings.
That’s not going to be the case for Boone and the Yankees, who have made it clear that their starters will be on a short leash in the ALCS.
After pulling Masahiro Tanaka in Game 1 after allowing just one hit in six innings on 68 pitches while facing the minimum, Boone didn’t let James Paxton get through the third inning.
Paxton allowed four hits in 12 batters faced, which included a Correa RBI double to get the hosts on the board in the second inning.
With runners on first and second with one out in the third, Boone went to Chad Green, who shut down Alex Bregman and Yordan Alvarez and prompted the Yankees’ bullpen game.
New York used eight relievers on the night, who did well against a potent Astros lineup. After starting the game 4-for-12 against Paxton, Houston went 3-for-31 against the Yankees bullpen over the next nine innings in Game 2.
Luis Severino will make just his fifth start of the 2019 season in Game 3 after battling back from injuries. He hasn’t gone more than five innings in a start this season, including a four-inning outing during Game 3 of the ALDS against the Minnesota Twins. So don’t expect him to be on the hill for long on Tuesday night.
It’s not a conventional way of managing — even in an analytics-driven MLB — but it’s getting the job done for the Yankees. The bullpen has a 1.88 ERA during the 2019 postseason.
That’s a good enough number to go against the Astros any day of the week.