Judge unbowed: 'We're going to get it done'
HOUSTON -- When Aaron Judge rounded the bases with an early homer that stunned Justin Verlander, it was easy to envision the Yankees carrying a commanding American League Championship Series lead back to The Bronx, where the jet-engine roars of their frenetic home crowd could exceed the decibel levels that were produced underneath the roof at Minute Maid Park.
Verlander’s jaw dropped as he watched the flight of that drive carry over the center-field fence, but it was to be the Yanks’ only blow of the evening. Carlos Correa stamped the conclusion of a four-hour, 49-minute affair, connecting for an 11th-inning homer off J.A. Happ that lifted the Astros to a 3-2 victory Sunday night in Game 2 of the ALCS.
"It’s tough,” Judge said. “We had a lot of chances in that game. We had them on the ropes basically all game and just weren’t able to seal the deal, but we’re confident going back home.”
Though the Yankees were still smoldering in the wake of the defeat -- Gary Sánchez, in particular, was incensed by a called third strike in the top of the 11th that he adamantly believed was outside -- they accepted the consolation prize of a split that served to clear Houston’s home-field advantage.
The ALCS now shifts to Yankee Stadium for three games beginning on Tuesday afternoon, with the Astros needing to win at least once to force another game in Houston. The Bombers would rather fatten up on home cooking, having gone 57-24 (.704) in New York this season, including winning three of four games there against the Astros in late June.
“We play well at home,” Brett Gardner said. “We obviously would have loved to have won that game tonight, but it wasn't meant to be. We played a pretty clean game today. We just weren't able to come through with that big hit when we needed it.”
Correa’s decisive blow marked the fifth postseason walk-off defeat via home run in Yankees history, and the first since David Ortiz of the Red Sox homered to end Game 4 of the 2004 ALCS. The homer off Happ ended a string of terrific work by a Bombers bullpen that absorbed 23 outs following a quick hook for starter James Paxton, who was charged with one run on four hits over 2 1/3 innings.
“You're playing to win the game,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said. “You're playing to what gives us the best chance to win here. And the bottom line is, we ended up giving up a third run in the 11th inning. I'd say from a run prevention standpoint, it went pretty well.”
While Happ was saddled with the loss, he’d pitched out of a two-on, one-out jam in the 10th, negating a pair of Jonathan Loaisiga walks. CC Sabathia jogged out of the bullpen to begin that inning, succeeding in his third career relief appearance (second postseason) by inducing a Michael Brantley groundout.
“That run in [from the bullpen] almost killed me,” Sabathia said.
The Yankees threatened in the 11th, as Edwin Encarnación worked a two-out walk off Ryan Pressly and Gardner lined a single off Josh James. With Sánchez at the plate, the Yanks appeared to catch a break as a swinging strike was ruled a foul tip, a play that could not be reviewed. One pitch later, though, home-plate umpire Cory Blaser ruled that the inning was over.
"No doubt in my mind, 100 percent, that was a ball there,” Sánchez said through an interpreter. “He called it. I don't know how he called it. I definitely knew it was a ball."
Verlander delivered the caliber of performance that would be expected of a Cy Young Award candidate, retiring the first nine batters before Judge made the right-hander pay for a DJ LeMahieu walk, slugging a 423-foot blast over the center-field wall for his seventh career postseason homer.
“It’s fun. This is what you live for,” Judge said. “This is what I dreamed of as a kid, rocking stadiums and … a chance to be a hero.”
That advantage was short-lived. Chad Green retired all six men he faced in relief of Paxton, then yielded to Adam Ottavino, whose first pitch was a spinning slider in the heart of the plate that George Springer slammed to left-center field, tying the game.
“Obviously I'm not trying to throw it there; more down and away,” Ottavino said. “I was expecting a swing. I think it just came out a little early. Not ideal. I have a lot of confidence in my slider, but credit to him, he didn’t miss it.”
A brilliant play by Correa, the Houston shortstop, kept the score tied in the sixth. Gardner smashed a two-out liner that dented José Altuve’s glove at second base, rolling toward the middle of the infield. Third-base coach Phil Nevin waved LeMahieu home, but Correa scrambled to retrieve the ball and fired a strike to catcher Robinson Chirinos, cutting down LeMahieu.
“I haven't seen the replay yet, but from what everybody is saying, he just made a great play on it,” LeMahieu said. “It was probably the right call.”
Verlander completed 6 2/3 innings of two-run, five-hit ball, exiting to a standing ovation from a towel-waving crowd of 43,359.
“They held us down tonight and that's going to happen,” Boone said. “We know this isn't going to be an easy series, by any means, but over time I'll take our guys and their approach. Tonight they just did a better job of holding us down.”
In postseason series with the current 2-3-2 format, when a team has split the first two games at home, it has gone on to win the series 45 of 82 times (55%). Among those 82 splits, the Game 3 winner has gone on to win the series 55 times (67%).
"Time to regroup and get ready for Tuesday,” Judge said. “I always like our chances going home, especially for three. It's time to roll. It's the postseason. We're going to get it done."