Can the Yanks still win? Yes. Will it be easy? No.

October 18th, 2019

NEW YORK -- As Mike Tyson once said, everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth. The Astros did exactly that to the Yankees on Thursday night, putting Aaron Boone’s club on the brink of elimination.

Now what?

The Yankees face the seemingly improbable task of winning three straight games against the Astros, who used a pair of three-run homers by George Springer and Carlos Correa to cruise to an 8-3 win in Game 4 of the American League Championship Series.

Winning three straight would be nothing new for these Yanks, who have had 16 winning streaks of at least three games this season, including their three-game sweep of the Twins in last week’s AL Division Series. One of those streaks even came against the Astros, though all three of those victories came in the Bronx back in June.

The second of those three wins was started by , who will try to keep New York's season alive Friday night. Of course, the opposing pitcher that June night was Brad Peacock, not Justin Verlander, who will attempt to pitch Houston to its second World Series in three seasons in Game 5.

The Yankees shouldn’t be thinking about anything but Game 5. If they can’t figure out a way to beat Verlander -- or at least outlast him before getting to the Astros’ bullpen -- then there won’t be a Game 6 on Saturday night to worry about.

“One pitch at a time; that’s how it starts,” Aaron Judge said. “You can’t be thinking about six and seven -- got to be thinking about the next game. You’ve got to slow the game down, taking it one pitch at a time.”

The Yankees are best-served to focus exclusively on Friday night. We, on the other hand, aren’t playing in Game 5, so we’re free to look past Friday and figure out the Yanks’ path to hosting the Nationals in Game 1 of the World Series on Tuesday night in the Bronx.

Game 4 was ugly. Four errors, 13 strikeouts and an 0-for-7 effort with runners in scoring position. Paul O’Neill’s ceremonial first pitch wound up being the highlight of the evening for the 49,067 in attendance.

“We need to flush this immediately,” Boone said. “We talked about it as a team. We need to get over this in a hurry and come put our best foot forward tomorrow.”

Game 5 presents a pair of challenges for the Yankees, who must solve them both if they hope to board a flight for Houston.

First, can Paxton rebound from his underwhelming performance in Game 2, when he was lifted after just 2 1/3 innings? The left-hander was one of the best pitchers in the league during the final two months, going 10-0 with a 2.51 ERA over his last 11 regular-season starts. But he’s been quite hittable in two postseason starts, lasting just seven innings over those two outings.

Then there’s the offense, which has looked pedestrian since the seven-run outburst in Game 1. The Yanks are 1-for-16 with runners in scoring position over the past three games, and the one hit -- ’s two-out single in the sixth inning of Game 2 -- didn’t even plate a run thanks to Correa’s great throw home to nab at the plate.

After squandering multiple chances against Gerrit Cole -- don’t worry, we’ll get to him in a little while -- in Game 3, the Yankees will have to find a way to score against Verlander if they hope to send the series back to Houston.

“He’s a good pitcher, but I know we’re going to battle hard,” LeMahieu said of Verlander. “We’ve got our backs against the wall, so I know we’re going to give him everything we’ve got.”

If the Yanks are able to stave off elimination and move the series back to Minute Maid Park, they’ll likely be looking at a bullpen vs. bullpen game on Saturday. New York’s bullpen has been its strength all season, but continues to struggle and Chad Green proved to be mortal on Thursday, serving up the three-run blast to Correa that busted the game wide open.

The silver lining for the Yankees is that neither nor pitched in Game 4, so assuming they’re needed in Game 5, they should be able to throw at least an inning on Saturday.

It is all hands on deck at this point for the Yanks, who will try whatever they can in order to extend the series.

For all the injuries the Yankees have endured this season, the prospect of winning three straight against the Astros -- including two games started by Verlander and Cole -- might be a more daunting task than anything they’ve encountered to this point.

“Our guys are studs, and I think they embrace the challenge,” Boone said. “Obviously we've got our backs against the wall now and we've had it there in many ways from the adverse situations we faced all year.”

Following Thursday night’s sloppy loss, Boone gathered his team to deliver a message, seemingly channeling the spirit of Hall of Famer Yogi Berra in the process.

It ain’t over ’til it’s over.

“He just said, ‘We need to win,’” said. “If we're able to play the way we play, our chances of winning games are very high. That's what we need to do.”

“We’re not out of anything,” LeMahieu said. “We have a resilient group. We’ve shown that all year, no matter what’s been thrown at us.”

Well, that could change if the Yanks somehow manage to push the series to a decisive Game 7. You know the famous Earl Weaver line, “Momentum is the next day’s starting pitcher”? There’s no better momentum in the game right now than Cole taking the mound, which is what will happen if the two teams are playing Sunday night.

Then again, if the Yankees are able to force a Game 7, anything can happen. At least that’s what Boone and his team will be thinking when they take the field, knowing anybody -- even Cole -- can have an off night.

“Stranger things have certainly happened,” Boone said. “A lot stranger.”