HOUSTON -- The Yankees’ last, best chance to depart with a split of this American League Championship Series rocketed off Aaron Judge’s bat in the eighth inning on Thursday. His opposite-field drive drew a gasp from the sellout crowd at Minute Maid Park, soaring like so many of the 62 home runs that the slugger launched during his regular-season chase for history.
Judge’s teammates leaped toward the dugout’s top step; this one would land in the seats, they seemed certain. But Judge felt the wind would keep it in, and soon after Kyle Tucker’s spikes crunched into the warning track, the rest of the world knew for sure. The Yankees’ hopes for ALCS Game 2 were dashed four outs later, absorbing a 3-2 loss to the Astros as the pennant showdown prepares to shift venues to the Bronx.
“We’ve got a great offense; I think we’ve just got to get back to what has gotten us to this position and what helped us win the division,” Judge said. “If that’s contact, moving guys over, coming up with that big hit -- we’ll figure it out and be ready.”
It was a cruel dagger for the visitors that, according to Statcast, Judge’s 345-foot fly ball would have been a home run in precisely one Major League ballpark: Yankee Stadium.
Kyle Higashioka asked for the exit velocity; told that it had been 106.3 mph, the catcher nodded and said, “I was kind of amazed it didn’t go out.” Giancarlo Stanton said he thought Judge’s ball might have left the park if the roof had been closed; with first-pitch temperatures at an enjoyable 78 degrees on a clear evening, however, there was no need.
"Who would have thought," Yankees manager Aaron Boone said, "I think the roof open kind of killed us."
Yet that decision was made by Major League Baseball, not the Astros, who typically prefer the louder atmosphere of a closed roof. When evaluating the Yankees’ shortcomings in Game 2, it is important not just to focus on one swing or swirling crosswinds -- rather, the 30 whiffs that have come from New York’s lineup through 18 innings. After striking out 17 times in Game 1, the Yanks added 13 in Game 2, with Houston starter Framber Valdez fanning nine.
“The idea ain’t just to touch it. We’ve got to score,” Boone said. “They’re about as tough as there is to score against, but we’ve got to figure out a way.”
Added Stanton: “We’ve got to shorten up a little bit and put the ball in play. You never know what can happen if you put the ball in play."
Luis Severino kept the game close by pitching into the sixth inning for New York, surrendering a three-run homer to Alex Bregman in the third that landed in the left-field Crawford Boxes.
“I threw a good pitch,” Severino said. “[Bregman] hit it at 91 mph. That's the only thing I'm gonna say. And Judge hit it at 106 mph and it didn't go out. I don't know, they got lucky.”
The Yankees took advantage of two Valdez errors to push across a pair of fourth-inning runs. Valdez bobbled a Stanton chopper, then threw errantly past first base, setting up runners at second and third. Anthony Rizzo cashed a run with a groundout and Gleyber Torres picked up an RBI with an infield single.
But those unearned runs were all the Yanks could manage against Valdez, who struck out nine (including Higashioka three times) and permitted just four hits.
“I think we’re going to go into this off-day, take a step back and take a breath to reflect on what we need to really work on and adjust to get going again,” Higashioka said. “I definitely think we could put some more balls in play, me especially. I didn’t even hit the ball tonight.”
No doubt, the Yankees face an uphill battle. In all best-of-seven postseason series, teams taking a 2-0 lead have gone on to win the series 74 of 88 times (84%).
Only one team in the previous 17 postseasons rallied from a 2-0 deficit: the 2020 Dodgers against the Braves in the NLCS. In the current 2-3-2 format, teams going ahead 2-0 in their home ballpark have won 43 of 53 times (81%).
But there is hope. These Yankees posted a Major League-best 57-24 record (.704) in the Bronx during the regular season, winning two of three games played at home during the ALDS against the Guardians. In many ways, their season will come down to Gerrit Cole and Nestor Cortes, their scheduled starters for Games 3 and 4.
“We’ve got to go home and get one,” Boone said. “It starts with that. We’ve just got to find a way to do a little bit more offensively, but we feel like we can go out there and limit them enough to give us a chance. We certainly feel there’s no one better than Gerrit to hand the ball to and get us right back into this.”