NEW YORK -- When the Astros came to Yankee Stadium in June and split four games with the Yankees, it wasn’t really a true indication of how much they had dominated. Houston never trailed at any point in the four games, with the exception of two walk-off swings by Aaron Judge that kept the Yankees from being swept.
The Astros won all three games from the Yankees in the regular season at Minute Maid Park, never trailing, and had every right to come into the American League Championship Series brimming with confidence. The job isn’t quite finished, but the Astros are leaving no doubt that they’re the best team in the AL and now are one win away from advancing to their fourth World Series in the last six seasons.
Another dominating pitching performance by the unflappable Cristian Javier, a crowd-silencing homer by Chas McCormick in the second inning and a clutch hit by veteran catcher Christian Vázquez in a three-run sixth helped the Astros blank the Yankees, 5-0, in Game 3 of the ALCS Saturday night at Yankee Stadium.
“Well, I don't know if dominant's the word,” manager Dusty Baker said. “I mean, all of 'em are close, except tonight. So I don't think about being dominant. I just think about just scoring one more run than they score and winning the ballgame. The Yankees are always dangerous, especially here in New York, so we got an opportunity to close it out and win tomorrow, so we're going to take every opportunity to try to do that.”
The Astros remain unbeaten in the postseason (6-0) and lead the best-of-seven ALCS, 3-0, heading into Sunday night’s Game 4. They need to win one more game to advance to their fifth World Series in franchise history -- and fourth since 2017. Houston had never led a best-of-seven series 3-0 prior to this year.
In the history of best-of-seven postseason series, 39 teams have won each of the first three games. Of those, only one has rallied to win the series -- the 2004 Red Sox against the Yankees in the ALCS. In fact, in 30 of those 39 instances (77 percent), the team up 3-0 finished off a sweep in Game 4.
“It would be really hard for [the Yankees] to come back down 3-0, but we’re going to play like it’s the first game of the series tomorrow,” McCormick said. “This is a really good team. We’ve got to make sure we’re ready to go.”
Javier, who threw seven no-hit innings in a combined no-hitter at Yankee Stadium on June 25, allowed one hit and three walks over 5 1/3 innings and combined with five relievers to throw a three-hit shutout. Houston’s suffocating pitching staff has held the Yankees to two earned runs, 12 hits and nine walks in 27 innings, while striking out 41 batters. The Astros have allowed two runs or fewer in five consecutive playoff games, matching the fourth-longest such streak in postseason history.
“We’re throwing the ball really well, we’ve played great defense,” reliever Ryne Stanek said. “We’re a confident team. We know what we’re capable of as a team, and everybody kind of holds everybody else accountable by their actions. You don’t want to be the one falling behind anybody by not putting the work in and letting the boys down. I think that’s just how we’re built.”
Javier, who began the season in the bullpen, wouldn’t have even started Game 3 had Lance McCullers Jr. not injured his elbow in the clinching celebration following the ALDS a week earlier. Now the Astros have McCullers set to pitch a possible clincher in Game 4.
“I feel very proud of what I've been able to do here and also for the team to have given me this opportunity,” Javier said. “I know being a reliever is sometimes just part of the process, but I feel very proud and very happy to be where I'm at.”
In a display of Houston’s pitching depth, Stanek, who had pitched just once in the previous five postseason games, struck out the side in the seventh. Houston turned to top pitching prospect Hunter Brown to get two outs in the eighth inning before Rafael Montero and Bryan Abreu got the final four outs. The Yankees didn’t get a runner to third base until the eighth.
When Vázquez’s two-run sixth-inning single gave Houston a 5-0 lead, the Yankees’ chances of coming back were effectively erased. The Astros’ bullpen has posted a 0.62 ERA in six playoff games with 13 hits allowed and 39 strikeouts in 29 innings.
“We’re very much a team that doesn’t take days off,” Stanek said. “We’re aware of the task at hand, and everybody is ready for it.”