HOUSTON -- With a chance to win the season series against the Yankees, Astros manager Dusty Baker managed the first game of Thursday afternoon’s doubleheader at Minute Maid Park like it was a winner-take-all Game 7 in October.
Baker, not worrying about availability of his pitchers in Game 2, ran out his four best relief pitchers after starter Cristian Javier’s five innings and all but emptied his bench in the ninth inning. The urgency paid off when J.J. Matijevic scored Alex Bregman from third base with an infield single in the bottom of the ninth for a 3-2 walk-off win over the Yankees.
“We were trying to chase a team and wanted to really win this first game, and that put us in a position that if we end up tied, we won the tiebreaker,” Baker said. “We really didn’t want to take that into the second game. We went through our bullpen in the first game and that’s why it was important for us to win it, because I don’t know if these guys are available or not for the second game, the back end of our bullpen.”
The Astros beat the Yankees, 7-5, in Game 2 to sweep the doubleheader and beat the Bronx Bombers for the fifth time in seven meetings this year. The next time they play each other could be in October, which would be their fourth postseason matchup since 2015 (all won by the Astros).
“It's definitely news to watch us play each other, but at the end of the day, we got to stay ahead of them on our home field and every game is important,” Yankees slugger Giancarlo Stanton said.
The Reds, who took two of three in New York earlier in July, are the only other team to have won the season series over the Yankees this year. Houston pulled to within 2 1/2 games of New York for the best record in the American League with its 60th and 61st wins of the season.
“I’m not going to say it doesn't mean anything,” said Astros slugger Yordan Alvarez, who hit a solo homer in the first inning of Game 2 and a two-run double in the second inning. “They’re a really good team, but we also know we’re a really good team as well. Beating them feels good, but we know that we’re capable of doing it.”
If the teams finish the regular season tied, the Astros would get home-field advantage for a possible showdown in the best-of-seven AL Championship Series. In the 2017 ALCS, the home team won all seven games between the clubs, with the Astros advancing, and Houston got a walk-off homer from Jose Altuve in Game 6 of the 2019 ALCS to win the pennant.
"I'm aware of that, but it doesn't change the fact that we're going to try to win this game and win the night game,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said. “We're in the business of being the best team we can be right now and trying to win every time we are out there."
The Astros and Yankees split four games in June in a terrific series at Yankee Stadium, with the Yankees securing bookend walk-off wins. Houston threw a combined no-hitter on June 25, in which Javier started and struck out 13 in seven innings. The Astros beat the Yankees, 2-1, in a makeup game at Minute Maid Park on June 30.
“Home-field advantage is a great thing for the playoffs, and playing here in the playoffs and in front of the amazing fans goes a long way,” Matijevic said.
The schedule doesn’t get any easier for the Astros, who head to Seattle following the doubleheader for a three-game series against the second-place Mariners, who have won 14 games in a row. Still, the Astros lead the division by 10 games and hope to keep Seattle at bay while putting pressure on the Yankees.
“It’s huge,” Baker said. “It’s huge for us to start out [the second half] 2-0, it’s huge for us to take our [division] lead back to double digits. On to Seattle late tonight, and get some rest and come out for a big series this weekend.”