Luck continues to elude 0-4 Astros

Espada praises his club's fight after Alvarez's hard-hit balls fail to find grass

March 31st, 2024

HOUSTON -- When you get swept in four games to start a season, the only thing you can do is try to extract some positives from an otherwise disappointing weekend. That wasn’t too hard for Astros manager Joe Espada. All he had to do was look at the ninth inning Sunday afternoon, when his team pushed the Yankees to the brink before falling short.

The Astros rallied in the ninth and thought for a split second they had perhaps won the game when slugger crushed a fly ball to center field off Yankees closer Clay Holmes with two men on base, only to see it settle into the glove of Aaron Judge after traveling a Statcast-projected 385 feet. A sliding catch by Alex Verdugo in left field to rob Kyle Tucker of a game-tying hit followed to seal the Astros’ 4-3 loss at Minute Maid Park.

“There wasn’t luck on our side,” Espada said. “Yordan hit two balls today that should have left the yard, but they didn’t. I like the fight, man. That’s what it’s all about. You fight until the last out of the game, and if you do that, you’re going find yourself in a good spot to win games.”

The Yankees swept four games from the Astros, who have lost 12 of their past 13 games at home since last season, including the playoffs. It’s the second time in franchise history Houston has been swept in a four-game series to start a season, joining the 1978 club, which was swept by the Reds in Cincinnati.

“The ninth inning was obviously electric,” Verdugo said. “Astros fans do a really good job of making it really loud, so it was one of those things where adrenaline was definitely flowing. It was very close to that playoff feel."

The Astros are 0-4 for the first time since the 2011 rebuilding season, getting outscored, 21-11, by the Yankees. Yet one of the losses was by two runs and two were by one run, which only underscores how Houston’s 8-for-41 performance at the plate with runners in scoring position hurt.

While the Yankees benefited from some good fortune -- Jose Trevino and Jon Berti had RBI bloop singles in the second and fourth innings, respectively -- Alvarez crushed the ball twice in his 0-for-5 day. He followed a Jose Altuve homer in the third by flying out to center -- a ball that traveled a projected 394 feet. His ninth-inning rocket was 106.3 mph off the bat.

“I think that was probably the at-bat I felt the most comfortable since the season started,” Alvarez said. “I got four [previous] at-bats today and I felt something big was coming. When I hit the ball, I said, ‘Man, I ended the game here,’ but I just saw the ball and it didn't run.”

New York was able to contain Alvarez and Alex Bregman in the series, but Juan Soto turned Minute Maid Park into his personal playground in his Yankees debut. He was 3-for-5 on Sunday and delivered the game-winning hit in the top of the ninth off Josh Hader, who worked three times in the series in his Astros debut.

Soto slapped a two-out single to left field in the ninth to score Gleyber Torres, who had just stolen second base, and snap a 3-3 tie. Soto was 9-for-17 in the series and reached base safely 12 times, matching a club record for most times reaching base in his first four games with the Yankees.

“It’s a Major League hitter doing what he does and doing his job,” Hader said. “I was trying to go up and away and went up and away and out. Tip your cap. You can always say you can throw another pitch, but I executed what I wanted to do, and a good hitter is going to do that sometimes.”

Houston will have to regroup quickly with another American League East team, the Blue Jays, headed to Minute Maid Park for a three-game series beginning Monday. To a man, the Astros know they must play better, but Sunday showed the fight is still there.

“If you keep pushing things ‘til the end, you’re going to win some of those close games,” Espada said. “I’ve seen it here many, many years. I know that 0-4 is not what I want to see, but I like the fight in our boys. That’s exactly what I want to see every, every day.”