HOUSTON -- As Jordan Montgomery made the long walk to the visitors' clubhouse after throwing seven pitches, the Yankees' bullpen was presented with a formidable challenge, asked to fill eight innings against the defending World Series champions while going toe-to-toe with one of the best outings of Justin Verlander's career.
The Yankees could produce no answers for Verlander, who tied his career high with 14 strikeouts in an eight-inning gem, but they delivered a knockout blow against Ken Giles in the ninth. Gary Sanchez launched a go-ahead three-run homer, prompting Houston's closer to punch his own face as the Yankees stunned the Astros, 4-0, on Tuesday at Minute Maid Park.
"Pretty electric atmosphere," manager Aaron Boone said. "The pitching has dominated. We've seen some good defense as well. It's a lot of fun to be in these games, when every pitch matters. You know if you're not on top of your game, that other team is going to make you pay. These are fun to be a part of."
After Verlander retired the final 16 men he faced, Aaron Judge greeted Giles with a single and Didi Gregorius followed with a double. Giles struck out Giancarlo Stanton, then the Astros opted to face Sanchez with first base open. Sanchez made them pay, connecting for a 423-foot blast that struck a concrete pillar next to the batter's eye in center field, leaving the backstop's bat at 109.2 mph.
"I was ready to hit regardless, even if they walked me or not," Sanchez said through an interpreter. "After I noticed that they were not going to walk me, I thought they were going to throw some uncomfortable pitches. I was looking for something that I could hit. He left something there for me."
Giles, whose right hook to his own jaw preceded a furious display in his dugout, called the slider a "horrible pitch" and said Sanchez "deserved to hit it over the fence."
Aaron Hicks added an insurance run later in the ninth, dashing from third base as a wild pitch skipped away from catcher Brian McCann.
The Yankees won for the first time in eight tries at Minute Maid Park, including the postseason, and have won 10 of their last 11 contests overall.
The Yankees were behind the eight-ball early. With Montgomery experiencing tightness in his left elbow, rookie Domingo German stated his case to step into the rotation, if necessary. The 25-year-old right-hander spun four scoreless innings behind Montgomery, who will travel to New York on Wednesday for further evaluation. German walked one and struck out four.
"We got the call that I was going to go in the game, and I just put on my starter mentality," German said through an interpreter. "I started warming up as if I was to start the game, and I was just attacking hitters and trying to get ahead. I think that was the key."
Chad Green pitched a scoreless sixth inning before Dellin Betances pitched around a seventh-inning single, and Player Page for David Robertson did the same in the eighth. Albertin Chapman worked the ninth in a non-save situation. New York's bullpen has now worked 21 straight scoreless innings dating back to April 26, against the Twins.
Verlander was forced to settle for a no-decision despite his three-hit, no-walk performance, in which he recorded 14 strikeouts, a figure he also reached against the Yankees in August 2012 as a member of the Tigers. Since joining the Astros last Aug. 31, Verlander is 13-1 with a 1.45 ERA in 18 games (17 starts), including the postseason.
"He was great," Boone said. "I didn't think he could be any better than [Charlie] Morton was last night, and ... it was just electric. As he got deeper in the game, third time through that order, he started spinning it more. He had his way with us, but we kept battling, got him out of there and strung together a special inning."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
German impressed Boone in the fourth inning, when he pitched out of trouble following a leadoff walk to Carlos Correa and a Yuli Gurriel single. After a flyout, German got ahead of Marwin Gonzalez, 0-2, then fed the outfielder four offspeed pitches before Gonzalez grounded into an inning-ending double play.
"As a starter, I've been through situations like that where you find yourself in a jam," German said. "To me, I had to be aggressive and calm at the same time. So you want to go in there and execute your pitches with energy, but you want to keep calm throughout the whole jam."
The Astros gambled in the ninth, when pitching coach Brent Strom ventured to the mound and agreed to take a chance by having Giles pitch to Sanchez with first base open. The first pitch was an 88-mph slider down the middle that Sanchez pounced on, sending center fielder George Springer racing back in fruitless pursuit.
"I'm sure they obviously considered [walking Sanchez] when they went out there to talk, but I'm sure they figured, pitch carefully to him, and if they fall behind him, then they would have put him on," Boone said. "[Giles] hung that first pitch and Gary was ready. A big-time swing."
HE SAID IT
"[Verlander is] one of the biggest stars in baseball, so when you're facing a pitcher like that, you want to give your team a chance. That's what I wanted to do. Hold the game there and give my team a chance. Eventually, with the kind of lineup that we have, someone is going to come up [big], and that's what Gary did in the ninth." -- German
Luis Severino will face off against Dallas Keuchel on Wednesday as the Yankees and Astros continue their four-game series at 8:10 p.m. ET. Severino is coming off a no-decision against the Angels in which he permitted three runs and five hits over seven innings. He faced the Astros in Game 2 of the American League Championship Series, hurling four innings before exiting due to concern over a possible injury.