Keuchel, Astros find way to stop Yanks again

AL Wild Card Game rematch ends in another Houston victory

April 5th, 2016

NEW YORK -- The same teams that met in last year's American League Wild Card Game opened the season on Tuesday in the same stadium with the same starting pitchers on the mound.

For various reasons, the results were absolutely the same. The Astros defeated the Yankees, 5-3, at Yankee Stadium, and again, Dallas Keuchel earned the win.

Masahiro Tanaka, who lost last October, pitched only 5 2/3 innings this time and was gone when, in the eighth inning of a tie game, reliever Dellin Betances threw a ball over first baseman Mark Teixeira's head, leading to three unearned runs. It was one of the key moments of the game, but not the only key moment.

"The personality and the strength of our team came out like it did last year," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. "It didn't feel the same because it was freezing."

Correa homers, leads Astros to opening win over Yankees

The temperature for last year's 8 p.m. ET start on Oct. 6 was a balmy 67 degrees. At 1:11 p.m. ET on Tuesday, it was a frozen-tundra 36, the coldest weather for the start of a game in the Bronx since April 8, 2003.

That, of course, doesn't include two outdoor National Hockey League games played here by the Rangers against their local rivals -- the Devils and Islanders -- just two Januarys ago.

"There's ice on the field," Hinch marveled just a day after the opener was postponed because of a mixture of snow, sleet and steady rain that pelted the area Monday.

Since the NHL regular season is wrapping up in the city, all the Zambonis were occupied elsewhere.

Still, when the game began, the result could be measured by mistakes. The Yankees made them, and the Astros didn't. There was a misplay in left field by newcomer Aaron Hicks, the errant throw by Betances on a chopper hit by Carlos Correa and Correa's tying homer off Tanaka with two out and nobody on in the sixth inning.

Correa, with a run-scoring grounder, the homer and a fine diving catch at short on an Alex Rodriguez liner leading off the sixth, had his fingerprints all over this game.

Correa's homer was the 41st Tanaka has given up since joining the Yankees in 2014, 26 of them since the start of the 2015 season.

And that doesn't count the homers hit by Colby Rasmus and Carlos Gomez during the five innings Tanaka threw in the Wild Card Game.

"It's frustrating because we had a chance to win the game," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "We had a 2-0 lead, and we weren't able to build on that. Some of our mistakes led to them scoring some runs."

Tanaka had pitched three perfect innings when Jose Altuve opened the fourth with a line drive seemingly right at new left fielder Hicks.

The shot, which should have been caught, sailed over Hicks' head and bounced to the fence for a double. Two plays later, Chase Headley made a diving grab to snare Correa's hot shot ticketed for left, and Altuve scored the first Houston run.

"I just flat out missed it," said Hicks, who came over from the Twins last Nov. 11 in a trade for catcher John Ryan Murphy. "Plain and simple I just didn't read it well, and I missed it."

Welcome to New York.

Hicks, a switch-hitter, started the game because Girardi didn't feel right playing his two veteran left-handed-hitting outfielders, Brett Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury, in the same lineup against the left-handed Keuchel.

Last October, Girardi said he did a lot of soul searching about whom to play in center field when he benched Ellsbury for Gardner in the Wild Card Game and started the now-departed Chris Young in left. Ellsbury batted .202 and Gardner .198 in their last 29 regular-season games of 2015.

On Monday, Girardi said he had done a lot of soul searching and decided to bench Gardner in favor of Ellsbury, now a .200 hitter (2-for-10) against Keuchel. Gardner is 0-for-4. Hicks is now 2-for-7 with a homer and two walks.

"Hicks was going to play because he's had so much success against left-handers," said Girardi about his fourth outfielder, who has batted .301 with six homers and 11 RBIs in parts of three seasons against left-handers. "He's had some success against Keuchel. Again, a very difficult decision. We didn't have a lot of success against Keuchel last year, so I thought I'd do something different. Let's see if it works out."

It didn't. Last October against the Yanks, Keuchel looked untouchable after concluding a Cy Young Award season by pitching six innings of three-hit, shutout ball with seven strikeouts and no walks. Three Houston relievers finished it up.

This year, Keuchel was beatable, allowing three hits and walking four in seven innings. Starlin Castro, in his first at-bat for the Yankees, drove in his club's first two runs with a second-inning double. 

"You could see something was off because the command of the pitches was difficult," Hinch said. "Keuchel ended up getting a feel for his pitches as the outing went on. We extended him a little farther than we wanted to, but he finds a way to get his outs."

The Yanks will undoubtedly find a way of getting to the Astros without Keuchel on the mound in the final two games of the series on Wednesday and Thursday.

And, oh yeah, unlike last year, the Yanks weren't eliminated Tuesday. There still are 161 games to be played.