NEW YORK -- For all of the success the Yankees’ lineup had this season, there was one glaring Achilles' heel: the strikeout.
New York led the Major Leagues with 943 runs scored, but the Yanks also struck out 1,437 times, nearly 300 more times than the Astros, who whiffed less often than any team in the Majors. That hole in their game -- and in the swings of several key players -- came back to bite them Thursday night in an 8-3 loss in Game 4 of the American League Championship Series that left them facing elimination in Friday's Game 5.
But Greinke struck out Sánchez on three pitches, stranding the bases loaded. Rather than posting a big, crooked number, the Yanks let the starter off the hook, and Greinke went into cruise control, retiring nine of the next 10 batters.
“If we're going to break through and have success, we've had our chances here these last few days,” manager Aaron Boone said. “We've got to come up with a big hit in a big spot.”
Greinke put a pair of runners on base with one out in the fifth, ending his night as Houston called on Ryan Pressly to hold the 3-1 lead. Aaron Hicks drew a walk to load the bases, but Gleyber Torres struck out -- he was punched out by first-base umpire Mark Carlson on a check swing -- and Edwin Encarnacion followed with another strikeout, stranding three more runners on base.
“I missed my pitch,” Torres said. “I missed the opportunity, but it's part of the game.”
“I thought he made some good pitches, mixed in both his curveball, slider and threw some good fastballs in situations, too,” Boone said of Pressly. “I think he did a good job of settling in and buckling down. We've had a little bit of success against him in this series, and then he made some pitches there to get out of an inning.”
Since their seven-run outburst in Game 1, the Yankees have scored just six runs in these last three losses. They’re a combined 1-for-16 with runners in scoring position, striking out a whopping 32 times in 29 innings.
“I feel like we've done a pretty good job offensively of putting ourselves in position to have that breakthrough inning, where we can throw a crooked number up there or get that big hit to kind of get us rolling,” Boone said. “Part of that is they've pitched us tough. … When you have a couple of games where, obviously, it's magnified and you don't get a couple of hits, that's part of it, too. The strikeouts for us are going to happen. It's a matter of us taking good at-bats.”
The Yanks now face the daunting task of keeping their season alive Friday night against Justin Verlander. A win would send the series back to Houston, but they’ll need to take advantage of those opportunities if they hope to get to the AL Cy Young Award candidate and put some runs on the board.
“We get guys on base, and we’re missing that one big hit,” Aaron Judge said. “That was what Houston was able to do. They were able to get their big hits when they had traffic. We’ve just got to regroup and go back to playing our game. What got us here is we were able to put the ball in play -- move guys over and score guys when they are out there on the pond. We’ve got to take care of business.”