Yanks' backs against wall after Game 3 loss

October 23rd, 2022

NEW YORK -- The walk toward the mound seemed to transpire in slow motion, Aaron Boone measuring each step across the infield grass as he approached the gaggle of Yankees clustered around . The bases were loaded with none out, and seemingly with some hesitation, the manager extended his right finger to summon a fresh arm.

All three runs came around to score against reliever , and there would be no return punch coming. Boone said earlier this season that the Yankees’ tall task would be to “slay the dragon” that has been the Astros, a challenge made infinitely more difficult as New York absorbed a 5-0 loss in Saturday’s Game 3 of the American League Championship Series.

“We’ve had our backs against the wall all year, and even in this postseason, especially when we went down [two games to one] to Cleveland,” said. “We can’t look too far ahead. We’ve got to focus on a big Game 4 coming up here tomorrow.”

Harrison Bader said the Yankees face “a mountain,” but this feels like Everest. In the history of best-of-seven postseason series, 39 teams have won each of the first three games. Of those, only one has rallied to win the series -- the 2004 Red Sox against the Yankees in the ALCS. In fact, in 30 of those 39 instances (77%), the team up 3-0 finished off a sweep in Game 4.

A Yankees comeback would indeed be historic, especially against a Houston club that has held them to four runs over the first 27 innings of this ALCS. Including the postseason, Houston has defeated the Yankees in eight of 10 games thus far this year.

Even if the Yanks take the next two games, their reward would be to play Games 6 and 7 at Minute Maid Park, where they’ve lost eight of nine postseason games all time.

“You can’t get to the top without starting at the bottom,” Bader said. “There’s a game tomorrow. There’s nine innings tomorrow. We know what’s in front of us. It’s just a matter of taking it pitch by pitch. That can be the only focus.”

After striking out a combined 30 times in the first two games of the ALCS, Game 3 served as a continuation for the Bombers’ bats -- not just of the two games in Houston, but also of Cristian Javier’s June 25 performance at Yankee Stadium, when the right-hander spun seven hitless innings in a combined no-hitter (a game in which Cole accepted a tough-luck loss).

“I just feel like it’s going to be a tight ballgame against the Astros, no matter what,” Cole said.

This time, the Yanks managed just one hit off Javier: Giancarlo Stanton’s fourth-inning double. The Yankees have never been held to one hit or fewer in a postseason game, as they were through eight innings; a pair of two-out singles from Matt Carpenter and Bader saved them that indignity, at least.

“To win these games, you need a little something from everyone,” Boone said. “Sometimes that can be something small. Sometimes it can be something big. Sometimes it can be something unexpected. But we have people going out there that are certainly capable. A handful are struggling a little bit right now, but we’ve got to find a way against a very good pitching staff.”

Cole pitched serviceably into the sixth, hurt by a second-inning defensive miscue when Bader and Judge converged upon a Christian Vázquez fly ball. The crowd noise drowned out their calls, though Bader felt Judge’s converging footsteps, saying that both players “got a little spooked.” The ball smacked Bader’s glove, falling for an error.

“Given the situation, it’s two guys going hard for the baseball,” Bader said. “I trust my glove; Judge trusts his glove. As soon as it’s hit in our area, you just want to go for it. We just didn’t hear each other.”

Chas McCormick followed with a two-run, opposite-field homer that struck the top of the wall in right field and bounced several rows deep into the seating area, a blast measured at 335 feet. Cole exited with the bases loaded in the sixth, watching from the dugout as Trey Mancini lifted a sacrifice fly and Vázquez cashed two runs with a single to left field.

Yes, the Houston dragon has been formidable as advertised, though the Yanks’ offensive woes are not limited to the ALCS. They’ve been held to six hits or fewer in each game this postseason; in fact, that streak extends all the way back to Game 5 of the empty-ballpark, alternate-site 2020 ALDS vs. Tampa Bay, a 10-game span over which they have batted .159 (49-for-309).

“We’ve got a lot of talented individuals in this room,” Judge said. “We just haven’t been able to get everybody clicking on the same page this series, but we’ve still got a lot of ball left to play.”