HOUSTON -- The prevailing sentiment inside the Astros’ clubhouse following a disheartening sweep at home at the hands of the Yankees was to “turn the page,” something the club will have to do quickly with an afternoon game Monday in Arlington to start a three-game showdown against the Rangers.
Coming off a five-game road winning streak in which they bashed the baseball and ahead of the heretofore biggest series of the season, the enigmatic Astros were swept in three games at Minute Maid Park, losing 6-1 to the Bronx Bombers on Sunday night.
- Games remaining: at TEX (3), vs. SD (3), vs. OAK (3), at KC (3), vs. BAL (3), vs. KC (3), at SEA (3), at ARI (3).
- Standings update: Seattle leads the AL West by a game, with Houston in second place tied with Texas, which lost Sunday to Minnesota. The Mariners hold the tiebreaker over the Astros, meaning Houston needs to finish one game ahead of Seattle to win the division.
“That was tough to take, especially with the number of Yankee fans in our stadium,” Astros manager Dusty Baker said. “You can’t fret over it now because we only have a few hours to get over this one and then a tough series in Texas.”
The Astros will head to Arlington tied for second place with the Rangers, one game behind the first-place Mariners in the American League West. The Yankees swept a three-game series from the Astros for the first time since the final three games of the 2013 season -- Houston’s first in the AL.
“It’s a big series ahead of us and we’ve got to turn the page,” veteran catcher Martín Maldonado said. “We’ve got a day game tomorrow and it’s going to be really hard. We know how to turn the page.”
The Astros, who came into the series riding a five-game winning streak in which they had scored 52 runs with a franchise-record 78 hits in a five-game span, were held to six singles and fell to 35-34 at home this year.
“Obviously, we didn’t play well but we have no choice but to turn the page,” said third baseman Alex Bregman, who went 2-for-4 and scored Houston’s only run. “This is what it’s like playing down the stretch in a tight race. You have to be able to turn the page quick. We’re focused on doing that tomorrow.”
If there was a silver lining for the Astros, it was the performance of starting pitcher Cristian Javier, whose 7.46 ERA since June 21 was the worst among 103 pitchers with at least 50 innings. Javier delivered arguably his best start in 2 1/2 months, retiring 15 of the first 16 batters he faced with seven strikeouts in that stretch and no walks.
With Javier facing the Yankees lineup for a third time, DJ LeMahieu tied the game in the sixth inning with an RBI double, with Astros left fielder Yordan Alvarez tripping and crashing into the wall. Alvarez banged his knee and will likely DH on Monday, Baker said. Javier struck out Aaron Judge looking on a 3-2 pitch that was out of the strike zone before Yankees rookie sensation Jasson Domínguez tagged him for a two-run homer and a 3-1 lead.
“That’s the best game that Javier’s thrown in a couple of months,” Baker said. “The bottom of the order got us and he hung a pitch on LeMahieu. We were looking pretty good after we struck out Judge, but he got a breaking ball up on the kid.”
If the Astros can get a strong September from Javier to get his season back on track, that would be a huge development. Houston feels good about its starting pitching with Justin Verlander and Framber Valdez at the top of the rotation, but Javier is the wild card. He was terrific last season and a key piece in the Astros’ World Series run.
“He kept the ball down,” Maldonado said. “He had a good breaking ball, he had a good tempo. Like I said, this is the best game he’s thrown in a couple of months. And other than those pitches in the sixth inning, he didn’t make many mistakes.”
And now the Astros will turn to rookie J.P. France, Valdez and Verlander to start the series against the Rangers, who are battling with the Mariners to try to end Houston’s stranglehold on the division. In the history of the Lone Star Series, this is the most important meeting between the two Texas rivals.
“We’ve got to focus on what we do as a team and not try to do too much,” Maldonado said. “The fans will be crazy there and it’s going to be a good amount of fans from Houston, too. It’s a matter of executing pitches. It doesn’t matter who we play. Execution is the key.”