NEW YORK -- Each of the three October contests between the Astros and Yankees have featured loud chants of "M-V-P!" echoing throughout a sold-out venue. Jose Altuve's fantastic season has continued for Houston, but Monday night's plaudits were for Aaron Judge, as the Yanks' rookie right fielder enjoyed a postseason performance for the ages at Yankee Stadium.
Judge crushed a three-run homer in the fourth inning and made several splendid defensive plays, including a fearless crash into the right-field wall in the top of the fourth, as he made his presence felt by powering the Yankees' surge in an 8-1 victory over the Astros in Game 3 of the American League Championship Series presented by Camping World.
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"I get a chance to play baseball every day," Judge said. "I get to live my dream, so you've got to take the ups with the downs. That's what I picked up and learned from my teammates. They've supported me through the good times and the bad times. I get a chance to play in the ALCS with the New York Yankees. It's a dream come true."
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Todd Frazier hit a three-run homer in the second inning for New York, his first career playoff long ball, as a raucous crowd of 49,373 watched the Yankees remain undefeated at home this postseason and slice the Astros' ALCS lead to 2-1. Teams down 2-1 in best-of-seven postseason series are 40-94, including 12-38 in the LCS, though they are 5-5 since 2012.
"We've got three home games here, and we know we've got a good shot," Frazier said. "The hopes are still up there, and we showed tonight our offense is coming. We had two games where we didn't do much, but our offense is back, I think, and hopefully it will keep going tomorrow."
Charlie Morton's pitch was 1.54 feet off the ground when Frazier made contact, and that is tied for the third-lowest pitch hit for a homer by a Yankee this season. The lowest was an offering 1.36 feet off the ground that Starlin Castro golfed for a homer off Orioles lefty Donnie Hart on Sept. 7.
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Pitching with what he described as a "smoke and mirrors" approach, 37-year-old Carsten Sabathia continued his season-long trend of delivering clutch outings following a Yankees loss, limiting the Astros to three hits and four walks while striking out five over six scoreless innings. In 13 starts following a Yanks loss this season, Sabathia has gone 10-0 with a 1.69 ERA, including the playoffs.
"It feels good," Sabathia said. "Obviously you want to go out and have a good performance in the playoffs and give us a chance to get back in the series. Hopefully we did that tonight. We can come out tomorrow, swing the bats and score some more runs."
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Morton was tagged for seven runs on six hits and two walks in 3 2/3 innings. Will Harris relieved Morton and shook off catcher Evan Gattis twice before serving up a 2-2, 93.4-mph fastball that Judge blasted for his second homer of the postseason, capping a five-run fourth inning for New York.
Gattis said he wanted another curveball or a fastball down and away, but Harris threw an elevated fastball.
"It was my game," Harris said. "I threw the pitches I wanted to throw. That was the pitch I wanted to make. And he was ready for it. … I thought I had him set up for it, and I didn't. He was ready."
Dellin Betances walked both men he faced in the ninth inning, and Tommy Kahnle issued a bases-loaded free pass to Alex Bregman that broke up the shutout, before getting Altuve to bounce up the middle into a game-ending double play.
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Through three games of the ALCS, the Astros have scored five runs and are hitting .169 with only three extra-base hits. They are 3-for-13 with runners in scoring position.
"We've won two of them, so that's nothing to be upset about," outfielder Josh Reddick said. "It's not the normal Astros offense; we're use to producing five-plus, but our whole lineup's not hitting. We're relying on Altuve and [Carlos] Correa a little too much in the first two games, and we've got to come together as a team, maybe talk it out and work on things like we were doing in the Boston series. We have to come back out and get things sorted out. Our lineup will be all right. We'll turn things around pretty quickly."
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MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Maybin, maybe: The Yankees' five-run fourth inning was set up when Greg Bird's leadoff double fell just in front of Astros left fielder Cameron Maybin, who appeared to pull up just before the ball hit the ground. Bird was credited with a ground-rule double as the ball bounced into the seats. Morton came back with two consecutive outs before the next three batters reached in front of Judge, who mashed a three-run blast. Bird's double had a hit probability of just 4 percent, according to Statcast™.
"I was thinking if I dove for it and missed it, it was probably going to be a triple," Maybin said. "But, of course, you don't know it's going to be bounce into the seats. But we talked about it. A play where you're down, I think you've just got to take a shot, and whatever happens, happens. But just a tough play. You've got to just give those guys credit. They did a good job of taking advantage."
Out of a jam: Sabathia set down eight of the first nine batters he faced before running into trouble the second time through the order with the Yankees holding a 3-0 lead. Walks to George Springer and Altuve and a single by Bregman loaded the bases with two outs in the third for cleanup hitter Correa. With a chance to give the Astros a lead with one swing, Correa popped out to shortstop to end the inning on the second pitch of the at-bat.
"I was trying to make a pitch," Sabathia said. "He likes to get his hands extended. I was trying to get something in on him and made a good enough pitch where he popped it up to short."
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"I put my arm out and say, 'What time is it?' Just a little thing I do. I've been doing it forever, but I guess TV just finally caught onto it. … I'm saying, 'What time is it? It's my time.'" -- Frazier, who looked down at his wrist while rounding the bases for his first postseason homer
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SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
When Chase Headley reached on a run-scoring infield single in the fourth inning, it marked the first hit that the Yankees have had by a designated hitter this postseason, snapping an 0-for-29 skid. Before Monday, New York's last postseason hit by a DH belonged to Raul Ibanez, in Game 2 of the 2012 ALCS against the Tigers.
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UPON FURTHER REVIEW
Yankees manager Joe Girardi unsuccessfully challenged a call in the second inning, claiming Headley had been a hit by pitch. The replay official could not definitively determine whether the ball touched Headley or his uniform, so the call on the field would stand. Headley remained at bat, lining out to right field to end the inning.
One inning later, Astros manager A.J. Hinch successfully challenged a call at first base, as the Yankees' Didi Gregorius was initially called safe on a ground ball to second baseman Altuve. First-base umpire Chris Guccione ruled that Marwin Gonzalez's foot came off the bag, but the call was overturned after review.
Astros:Lance McCullers will start for the Astros on Tuesday in Game 4 at Yankee Stadium. The club had considered going with Brad Peacock, who instead figures to be ready to throw multiple innings out of the bullpen.
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Yankees: Right-hander Sonny Gray will take the mound for the Yankees on Tuesday in Game 4. It will be Gray's second start of the postseason, pitching on extended rest after taking the loss in Cleveland in the opener of the AL Division Series. Gray was 4-7 with a 3.72 ERA in 11 regular-season starts after being acquired by New York in late July.