NEW YORK -- The fans rose in unison at Yankee Stadium once more in the eighth inning on Thursday, intending to cap a three-game torrent of verbal abuse by sending Jose Altuve off with their parting thoughts. Instead, the Astros’ second baseman flipped the script, spoiling the Yankees’ bid for a sweep.
Targeted all week as the most prominent face of Houston’s 2017 sign-stealing scandal, Altuve reached the left-field seats with a go-ahead three-run birthday homer off Chad Green. The rare misstep by the Bombers’ excellent bullpen wasted Gerrit Cole’s effort in a 7-4 loss, snapping New York’s five-game winning streak.
“Any time Gerrit is on the mound, we expect to win,” Green said. “He threw seven great innings and we weren’t able to get six outs and close the door. That falls on us. We’ve just got to get better; it doesn’t matter what we’ve done in the past. It’s all about the next pitch and what we do from here on out.”
The Yankees carried a 3-2 advantage to the eighth behind homers from Giancarlo Stanton and Clint Frazier. Cole swapped strikeouts for groundouts, producing a solid but not spectacular effort for the reigning American League Pitcher of the Month, who said that it felt like he “played chess out there for a couple of hours.”
Facing the Astros for the first time since leaving Houston to ink a nine-year, $324 million contract with the Yankees before the 2020 season, Cole fanned only four while recording nine outs on the ground. Cole had notched 15 consecutive starts of seven or more strikeouts, dating to Aug. 8, 2020.
“Maybe there were some opportunities to put a couple of guys away with the strikeout, but at the same time, we got a lot of outs on those same pitches -- we got them to expand [the strike zone],” Cole said. “I thought there were some other pitches that were close, to say the least. They’re a tremendous offensive team, so they’re going to battle.”
Yordan Alvarez launched a pair of solo homers off Cole, who held Houston to five hits without a walk in a 97-pitch effort. Cole had allowed only one homer over his first six starts of the season.
“I don’t think he had his overwhelming stuff by Gerrit Cole standards, but I thought he made a lot of quality pitches,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said. “They had some tough at-bats against him. I thought it was a bit of a grind for him today, but to be able to go out there and pitch as well as he did for seven innings and leave with a lead, I thought it was a really strong performance.”
New York managed three runs in six innings against right-hander Lance McCullers Jr., with Stanton denting an advertising board at the back of the right-field bullpen with a solo homer in the third inning.
Frazier provided a lead in the fourth with a two-run shot to the right-field seats, his third homer in the last seven games. To mark the occasion, Frazier then signed an autograph for actor/director/superfan Spike Lee, flipping a ball above the dugout.
Stanton’s homer extended his hitting streak to 12 games. It was his team-leading ninth blast of the year, and his third consecutive game with a long ball -- the 17th time in Stanton’s career he has done that, and the first since 2018.
Gleyber Torres’ alert baserunning helped the Yankees trim the deficit in the eighth, scoring from first base on Aaron Hicks’ infield single.
Astros catcher Martín Maldonado countered the hustle by slugging a two-run homer off Justin Wilson in the ninth. Stanton made a bid to keep the game alive in the home half, smashing a 115 mph rocket to third base, but Alex Bregman made a diving stab to start a game-ending 5-4-3 double play.
“We had a chance to close one out today and couldn’t quite finish it off,” Boone said.
On bended knee
Gio Urshela will undergo an MRI after the Yankees' third baseman sustained a left knee injury making a diving stop in the eighth inning. Urshela smothered Aledmys Díaz’s infield single before throwing wildly to first base for an error, and he appeared to favor the injury when play resumed.
Torres said that Urshela mentioned the issue during the pitching change that followed Altuve’s homer, at which time Urshela was replaced in the field by Tyler Wade.
“I told him, ‘You need to tell the manager and get out,’” Torres said. “It’s just one game; we need [Urshela] all the rest of the season. The guys told me it’s nothing so bad, so I feel like it’s just a little thing. We’re just waiting for the MRI and we’ll see what it is.”