NEW YORK -- The Yankees knew all about their dismal numbers against Astros ace and 2015 American League Cy Young Award winner Dallas Keuchel heading into his critical Game 5 start in the AL Championship Series on Wednesday.Keuchel entered with a career 1.09 ERA in eight outings against the Yankees,
NEW YORK -- The Yankees knew all about their dismal numbers against Astros ace and 2015 American League Cy Young Award winner Dallas Keuchel heading into his critical Game 5 start in the AL Championship Series on Wednesday.
Keuchel entered with a career 1.09 ERA in eight outings against the Yankees, including two in the postseason, with 62 strikeouts and eight walks in 57 2/3 innings. It was the lowest ERA all-time among pitchers with at least 50 innings against New York. So Yanks players put it upon themselves to flip that narrative with a better approach against the lefty, and they did just that in a 5-0 victory that has them up 3-2 in the ALCS presented by Camping World and one win away from their first Fall Classic since 2009.
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Keuchel did make history, becoming the first pitcher to record at least seven strikeouts in each of his first five postseason starts, but it was only a footnote in an otherwise forgettable outing, as the Yankees chased him after 4 2/3 innings, touching him for four runs on seven hits and one walk.
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"It was a big challenge," said Yankees third baseman Todd Frazier said. "It manifested today, and we stuck with what our plan was. We did what we were supposed to do, and we're excited about that. We heard [those stats] the whole time, so we're just glad we got to him and got him out of there.
"He was the same as last time, but it was a difference of hitting pitches that were strikes."
The Yankees made it a point not to chase Keuchel's sinkers below the strike zone, instead waiting for him to elevate, as all seven of their hits came on pitches in the strike zone. He was nearly unhittable in Game 1, striking out 10 while surrendering four hits in seven scoreless innings. Keuchel felt like he had similar stuff Wednesday, but the Yanks did a better job with their approach.
"I felt great," Keuchel said. "You've got to give credit to those guys for taking advantage of some tough pitches. It seems like they made the necessary adjustments and just put the ball in play in the right spots."
The Yankees wanted to get to Keuchel early, and they did so with two outs in the second inning, when Starlin Castro hit a double on a 1-0 cutter that Keuchel called his only mistake pitch of the game. It was smoked off the bat at 111.4 mph, per Statcast™. Greg Bird then turned around an inside 2-0 fastball down the right-field line to give the Yanks an early 1-0 lead and inspire confidence they could get to Keuchel.
"Getting on a great pitcher like that early is key," Bird said. "You try and take advantage of those situations. Starlin getting on there, getting in scoring position, it puts pressure on him early. It doesn't let him settle in. That's big."
The Yankees kept the pressure on Keuchel thereafter, with Chase Headley leading off the third with a single and scoring on an RBI double from a red-hot Aaron Judge. Keuchel liked the pitch location to Judge -- a 1-1 cutter in on his hands -- but Judge ripped it down the left-field line for his first extra-base hit on a grounder all season. It was also the only hit off Keuchel that didn't come on a pitch down in the zone.
"We were just having patient at-bats and trying to pick out the right one," Judge said. "He lives on the edges, and he doesn't miss the glove. But we were able to get key hits in good situations."
Keuchel worked a 1-2-3 fourth, but Headley sparked another rally in the fifth with a one-out infield single, reaching second on a throwing error from third baseman Alex Bregman. Judge then worked a six-pitch walk to put two on for Gary Sanchez, who has been heating up at the plate. Sanchez jumped on an 0-1 slider that caught too much of the zone down and in, crushing it 110.7 mph, per Statcast™, for an RBI single.
"The focus tonight was to be aggressive, not swing at bad pitches," Sanchez said. "I think overall we did a good job of that."
Didi Gregorius followed with a seeing-eye single to left on a 3-2 sinker that remained in the zone, which forced Astros manager A.J. Hinch to remove Keuchel from the game. It gave New York a 4-0 lead it wouldn't relinquish.
"It was more about them hitting good pitches," Hinch said. "He didn't pitch poorly by any means. I thought Sanchez just hit a good slider, Judge hit a pretty good cutter and Didi, on his last pitch, hit a pretty good pitch as well. The Yankees are a good team. So it doesn't surprise me they put up a good fight."
Rhett Bollinger has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter **@RhettBollinger** and listen to his podcast.