NEW YORK -- The boos were raucous and rampant, and Dallas Keuchel didn't mind one bit.The Astros left-hander reveled in them during Monday night's introduction ceremony at Yankee Stadium, which will be shaking when Keuchel returns to take center stage in Game 5 of the American League Championship Series presented
NEW YORK -- The boos were raucous and rampant, and Dallas Keuchel didn't mind one bit.
The Astros left-hander reveled in them during Monday night's introduction ceremony at Yankee Stadium, which will be shaking when Keuchel returns to take center stage in Game 5 of the American League Championship Series presented by Camping World today, after New York tied this best-of-seven series, 2-2, Tuesday with its second consecutive win.
"You get boos against the Evil Empire at their home turf, it makes you feel good just because you're doing your job correctly," Keuchel said. "Obviously my job is to win for the Astros."
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Keuchel has mastered the practice, perhaps no better than when the Yankees are in the opposite dugout. The southpaw will look to draw on that success when he takes the mound a day after the Yanks' dramatic comeback for a 6-4 win in Game 4. In Game 5, he will square off against a familiar opponent in right-hander Masahiro Tanaka, looking to give a series lead to Justin Verlander ahead of Friday's Game 6 in Houston.
Keuchel and Tanaka have met twice in the postseason, and Keuchel has emerged the victor both times.
Their last meeting came in Game 1 on Friday. Tanaka delivered an admirable performance, holding a hot-hitting Astros team to two runs across six innings. But Keuchel bested him with a dominant display that featured 10 strikeouts over seven scoreless innings. Keuchel allowed just four singles, walking one, in Houston's 2-1 victory at Minute Maid Park.
Keuchel became the fourth pitcher to blank the Yankees over seven or more innings while also fanning 10 in a postseason start, joining elite company in hard-throwers Pedro Martinez, Cliff Lee and Randy Johnson.
Keuchel, a soft tosser, continually fooled New York's overeager young hitters, staying away from the upper-third of the strike zone and toying with them in the bottom of it.
"He doesn't miss his spot," Yanks slugger Aaron Judge said. "If you go through the whole game, there weren't a lot of pitches in the heart of the plate. He likes to live on the edges, and he commands it well. He mixes speeds well and keeps you off balance."
Keeping the ball down, as the 29-year-old Keuchel habitually does, generally results in a hefty supply of ground balls. No pitcher had a higher ground-ball rate than Keuchel (66.8 percent) during the regular season.
But the Yankees, who saw 109 pitches from Keuchel, were flailing away, whiffing on a two-seamer that averaged less than 90 mph during the course of the game. Just once did he need to reach for his changeup. His slider, in contrast, was utilized 28 times; two were put in play, neither resulting in a hit.
"It mainly was a feel thing," Keuchel said. "Because I'm usually throwing 10 to 15, maybe 20 percent changeups, especially to this group, being such good fastball hitters. But through the course of the game, pitch to pitch, at-bat to at-bat, it seemed like there was no need to change up what was working. And if I can go with Plan A, and they don't make adjustments or I don't need to make adjustments, then I'm not going to show Plan B."
The performance yielded results similar to those attained in the 2015 AL Wild Card Game at Yankee Stadium against Tanaka and the Yanks, who fell victim to six shutout innings from Keuchel. Tanaka went five innings, allowing two runs.
Keuchel, who took home the AL Cy Young Award that year, has compiled a tidy 0.72 ERA against the Yankees in the past three seasons, generating 57 strikeouts in 49 2/3 innings and producing a 0.77 WHIP in that seven-start span.
"Just being here," he said, "it brings a sense of calmness just because of the fact that we did win the 2015 Wild Card. But then again, that was two years ago. So this is a whole new team, a whole new challenge. And this is what we play for."
Jane Lee is a reporter for MLB.com.