HOUSTON -- Yankees starter James Paxton might have reached his "tipping" point in the third inning of Game 2 of the American League Championship Series against the Astros on Sunday night at Minute Maid Park.
For all of the drama that happened center stage in the Yanks' 3-2, 11-inning loss, some of the action behind the scenes was also intriguing.
Paxton allowed one run on four hits and two walks in 2 1/3 innings, which left some wondering why he was pulled so early. Neither Paxton nor manager Aaron Boone believed he was giving his pitches away. It was simply time to get the starter out of the game.
“I don't think so,” Boone said. “We're pretty vigilant on that stuff.”
Paxton agreed and said, “I don’t think they were getting anything.”
Here’s what we know: the Astros picked up that Paxton was tipping his pitches on April 10, and they proceeded to pound him for five runs on eight hits and three walks over four innings. The left-hander changed his hand placement in his next start on April 16 against the Red Sox and allowed only two hits and one walk in eight scoreless innings. It was Yankees special advisor Carlos Beltrán who first suggested that Paxton was tipping his pitches.
Beltrán was in Houston for the game, and it’s uncertain if he told the Yanks about Paxton tipping his pitches again Sunday. It certainly appeared that the Astros' hitters had some insight into Paxton’s pitches. They were seen discussing his delivery during the second inning. Houston led off the eventful frame with a single by Alex Bregman and a walk by Yordan Alvarez. Yuli Gurriel lined out and Carlos Correa followed with an RBI double.
That’s when Paxton changed his signs and struck out Robinson Chirinos and Jake Marisnick to get out of the inning.
In the third, Paxton gave up consecutive one-out singles to Michael Brantley and José Altuve before being replaced by right-hander Chad Green.
It was fair to wonder if Paxton was tipping again, especially against a team like the Astros that has a reputation for gamesmanship.
But perhaps the biggest reason for Paxton's departure was his ineffectiveness with both his four-seam fastball and his knuckle-curve. Of the 27 four-seamers and 17 knuckle-curves the southpaw threw, Houston only swung and missed at three fastballs and two breaking balls.
The five fastballs that the Astros put in play had an average exit velocity of 94.3 mph. They also hit five foul balls, and two of the three hits had exit velocities of 106.7 mph (Bregman) and 104 mph (Altuve), per Statcast.
Correa’s double came on a knuckle-curve, and it was clocked at 106.1 mph off the bat.
“[We] just felt like we were covered as far as today with getting some length and having guys rested,” Boone said. “Obviously, going into an off-day [Monday], we're just going to be aggressive. Thought he was struggling with his command. And it ends up, doesn't end well.”
In another interesting moment caught on camera, Aaron Judge was seen whispering to teammates Brett Gardner and Gary Sánchez near the top rail after hitting a two-run homer off Astros starter Justin Verlander in the fourth to give the Yankees a 2-1 lead. The outfielder said not to read too much into it.
“We were just talking about the game,” Judge said. “Nothing more than that.”
The Yanks’ dugout erupted after the homer, and an animated Judge sped around the bases in celebration. A few minutes later, he was chatting up Sanchez and Gardner.
“It’s the postseason and we got a lead off Verlander,” Judge said. “That’s all I was thinking. We know how good our pitching staff is. It’s the postseason. You show emotion.”