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Gray opposes McCullers as NY seeks ALCS split

MLB.com @JaneMLB

NEW YORK -- While the Yankees are formulating the early chapters of a familiar script, after halving Houston's American League Championship Series lead Monday, the Astros are still eyeing their own storybook ending.

Houston remains in control of this best-of-seven ALCS presented by Camping World, two games to one, but the Yankees have a chance to draw even in Game 4 today (5 p.m. ET on FS1), after taking down the Astros in commanding fashion by an 8-1 margin in front of an electric home crowd and showcasing the kind of offensive output -- led by AL MVP Award candidate Aaron Judge -- that proved elusive against co-aces Dallas Keuchel and Justin Verlander at Minute Maid Park over the weekend.

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NEW YORK -- While the Yankees are formulating the early chapters of a familiar script, after halving Houston's American League Championship Series lead Monday, the Astros are still eyeing their own storybook ending.

Houston remains in control of this best-of-seven ALCS presented by Camping World, two games to one, but the Yankees have a chance to draw even in Game 4 today (5 p.m. ET on FS1), after taking down the Astros in commanding fashion by an 8-1 margin in front of an electric home crowd and showcasing the kind of offensive output -- led by AL MVP Award candidate Aaron Judge -- that proved elusive against co-aces Dallas Keuchel and Justin Verlander at Minute Maid Park over the weekend.

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New York's 51 home wins were the most in the AL this season, and the Yankees are 17-3 at Yankee Stadium since Sept. 2. Monday's victory promised the Yanks faithful at least two more home games this year. It will take one win to force a Game 6 in Houston on Friday.

"We know we're better than what we showed the first couple of games, but we faced some really good pitching and weren't able to get a whole lot going," Yankees veteran Brett Gardner said after Monday's game. "Hopefully we continue to play well at home and try our best to even up the series tomorrow."

Today's pivotal matchup in the Bronx will feature a pinstripe-clad Sonny Gray toeing the rubber opposite Astros right-hander Lance McCullers Jr., who was announced as Houston's starter by manager A.J. Hinch minutes after the conclusion of Monday's game.

That means right-hander Brad Peacock, who was also in consideration to start, will be available out of the bullpen behind McCullers, who finished the regular season 7-4 with a 4.25 ERA -- including a 3.05 ERA through 16 starts in a stellar first half that earned him All-Star honors, compared to an 8.23 ERA across six starts during an injury-riddled second half.

Video: ALCS Gm4: McCullers Jr.'s thoughts on starting Game 4

McCullers has a 3.86 ERA in two postseason appearances. He made a 6 1/3-inning start against the Royals in the 2015 AL Division Series and pitched three innings of relief in Game 3 of the ALDS against the Red Sox last week, allowing two runs on three hits with four strikeouts and two walks.

"He's got really electrifying stuff, some of the best stuff in the big leagues," Hinch said. "I don't have to remind you guys, he was an All-Star to start the year."

Video: ALCS Gm4: Hinch announces McCullers as Game 4 starter

Gray, no stranger to the Astros after starting his career in Oakland, departed the A's in July to join the Yanks at the non-waiver Trade Deadline. Their long-awaited rotation upgrade compiled a 3.72 ERA in 11 starts with New York to cap the regular season, before struggling in his postseason debut as a Yankee.

Drawing the nod in Game 1 of the ALDS presented by Doosan, Gray was around for only 3 1/3 innings, giving up three runs on three hits and four walks in a 4-0 loss to Cleveland.

Video: ALCS Gm4: Gray on long layoff between starts

The Bronx Bombers recovered against the heavily favored Indians, after dropping the first two games, to become the 10th team to overcome a 2-0 deficit to win a best-of-five playoff series. The Yankees also did it in 2001, rallying to unseat Oakland, and they expect to do the same in this prolonged best-of-seven format.

Since the LCS expanded to a best-of-seven arrangement in 1985, teams that have been ahead 2-1 have won it 38 out of 50 times. But recent history is more promising to the Yanks: Going back to 2012, when the Wild Card Game was introduced, the trailing team in those 2-1 situations has rallied to win the series five of 10 times. And just last year, the Cubs came back to win both the National League Championship Series and the World Series after trailing 2-1 in each.

"We don't want to be 0-2 every time we play in the postseason, but things are like that," Yankees shortstop Didi Gregorius said. "We can't change it now, so we've got to focus on one game at a time and go from there."

Video: ALCS Gm4: Gray discusses Yankee Stadium's atmosphere

The Astros' offense has largely been missing in this series. The same group that led the Majors in a slew of offensive categories during the regular season, including hits, managed just four of them Monday, and they've mustered a combined five runs through the first three games.

"We've won two of them, so that's nothing to be upset about," Houston outfielder Josh Reddick said. "It's not the normal Astros offense we're used to producing five-plus, but our whole lineup's not hitting. 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 out. Our lineup will be all right. We'll turn things around pretty quickly."

Jane Lee is a reporter for MLB.com.

New York Yankees, Houston Astros, Sonny Gray, Lance McCullers Jr.