NEW YORK -- The Yankees recognized that they would have to find a way to defeat Dallas Keuchel or Justin Verlander in order to advance, and they attacked that challenge head on. Having toppled one of the Astros' aces to move within one win of the 41st World Series in franchise history, they will now focus their attention on the other.
The Bombers' new core of Greg Bird, Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez and Didi Gregorius all contributed run-scoring hits to back Masahiro Tanaka's dominant effort as the Yankees remained unbeaten at home this postseason, defeating the Astros, 5-0, in Wednesday's Game 5 of the American League Championship Series.
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"We have a great group of guys. We're always positive," Sanchez said through an interpreter. "As you know, it's a long season and there's up and downs. The important thing is that we always stayed positive, and now we have one more game to get to the World Series. We'll focus on that."
Keuchel had mastered the Yankees in their previous two playoff meetings, including a shutdown performance on this same mound in the 2015 AL Wild Card Game. In front of a frenzied crowd of 49,647, the Yanks turned the tables. Bird's second-inning RBI single represented the first run they had scored off Keuchel in 14 2/3 postseason innings.
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"Getting on a great pitcher like that early is key," Bird said. "You try and take advantage of those situations. It puts pressure on him early. It doesn't let him settle in. That's big."
The Astros, who are hitting just .147 as a team in the ALCS, must win two games at Minute Maid Park, beginning with Game 6 on Friday, to avoid elimination. The Yankees have outscored them, 21-9, in the ALCS presented by Camping World.
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"I think we're all shocked," said outfielder Josh Reddick, who's 0-for-17 in the series. "It's something we haven't gone through in a long period of time, and definitely for a stretch like we have right now. It can definitely build a lot of frustration in you, but we can't let the frustration overtake what we need to do to get the job done. We've got to take full advantage of tomorrow's off-day. We've got to win."
Said Astros manager A.J. Hinch: "This series isn't over. This game is. We're going to get back to Houston and get to an off-day with our families and come back ready to play."
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After Bird broke through, Judge ripped a third-inning double down the left-field line -- the first ground-ball extra-base hit of Judge's career -- chasing Brett Gardner all the way home from first base. Sanchez and Gregorius knocked back-to-back RBI singles in the fifth, sending Keuchel on his long walk back to the dugout.
"This was a big game for us," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "Every game is a big game, and you're just trying to win one game. But as we've seen, runs have been tough for us to score off of Keuchel. And for us to get four, I give our guys a lot of credit, because he's really tough."
Tanaka has been terrific at home of late, improving to 7-1 in his past eight starts at Yankee Stadium, and the right-hander again rose to the occasion. Leaning heavily on his slider, Tanaka generated 10 outs on the ground and eight via strikeout, limiting Houston to three hits and one walk over seven scoreless innings.
"I'm really glad how everything turned out, but I can't forget that it's not over yet," Tanaka said through an interpreter.
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Despite that sterling line, the Astros had their chances, but Tanaka repeatedly pitched out of trouble as Houston moved runners into scoring position against the righty in three innings. New York played the infield in early, saving a run in the second inning, and Tanaka dug deep for two strikeouts that ended the fifth.
"They played well, man," outfielder George Springer said. "This is a tough place to play and they feed off that energy. Ideally, it would have been great to come out of here with a win or two, but that's not the case. We'll see what happens."
Sanchez extended the Yankees' lead with a seventh-inning homer off Brad Peacock, the slugger's third of the postseason.
As the ALCS shifts back to Houston's Minute Maid Park for Game 6 on Friday, the Yanks will have two chances to advance to their first World Series since 2009. Teams that have won Game 5 in a tied best-of-seven series have gone on to win that series 41 times in 58 chances (70.7 percent).
"We're not going to think about that yet. We don't want to get ahead of ourselves," Judge said. "We've still got a job to do in Houston."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Castro ignites Yankees: Keuchel looked sharp out of the gate, retiring the first five batters he faced, including three by strikeout. It was early, but the lefty appeared to be headed for another big game against the Yanks. Starlin Castro got New York going with a two-out double in the second, and when Bird followed with an RBI single, the Bombers were off and running against their nemesis. Castro's laser had an 111.4-mph exit velocity, according to Statcast™.
"Any time you're able to score off a starter early, especially someone you haven't scored off at all, I think it does feel bigger," Girardi said. "Yes, we can break through. And you get two hits in a row, a double by Castro and then a big hit by Bird. The next big hit came from Judge, and we just kept putting them up."
Clutch hits elude Houston: The Astros had a rally brewing in the fifth inning against Tanaka, as Marwin Gonzalez knocked a one-out single and advanced on a wild pitch before Tanaka walked No. 9 hitter Brian McCann. The righty recovered to freeze Springer on a called third strike and then got Reddick to wave at a splitter in the dirt to end the inning. Houston was 0-for-8 with runners in scoring position in the game, and is 4-for-27 with runners in scoring position in the series.
"It's the postseason," third baseman Alex Bregman said. "Everybody knows that. We're facing the best arms in the game and hitting some balls at people, but it's going to take one swing for a lot of people in this lineup. One swing and we'll be right back where we need to be."
"It's been unbelievable. I haven't seen anything like it in Major League Baseball since I've been here. It reminds me of college football games. They're going crazy the entire game. It's a huge advantage for us, and it makes the environment tremendous to play in." -- Chase Headley, on Yankee Stadium during the postseason
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The Yankees are trying to become the 14th team in history to rally from an 0-2 deficit in a seven-game postseason series. Of the 13 teams that came all the way back, four of those teams -- the 1985 Cardinals in the NLCS and the '78 Yankees, '81 Dodgers and '96 Yankees in the World Series -- won four straight to finish their comeback in six games.
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Astros: Verlander gets the ball in Friday's Game 6 at Minute Maid Park. The right-hander racked up 13 strikeouts in Game 2, yielding just one run and going the distance while his teammates went to work in the ninth and staged a dramatic walk-off victory.
Yankees:Luis Severino will return to the mound for Game 6 on Friday in Houston. Severino's previous outing in Game 2 was cut short due to an overabundance of caution, as the Yanks thought he seemed to be rotating his right shoulder awkwardly. The righty had permitted just one run on two hits in four innings.