The Houston Astros entered Friday night on the verge of elimination, having dropped three straight games to the Yankees in New York to fall behind in the American League Championship Series. After winning 101 games in the regular season and five of their first six in the postseason, Houston was a loss away from heading home.
Luckily for the Astros, they had Justin Verlander on the hill.
Six days after throwing nine dominant innings in Game 2, Verlander delivered another gem Friday, blanking the Yankees over seven frames while striking out eight. Houston’s offense provided three runs in the fifth inning and four in the eighth, as the Astros won 7-1 to force a decisive Game 7.
Houston got contributions from a variety of players, in a variety of facets. At the plate, the Astros tallied eight hits, including two apiece from stars Carlos Correa and Jose Altuve. In the eighth, Altuve launched the team’s second home run of the series, off previously untouchable David Robertson, to set off a game-sealing rally. In the field, they made several impressive plays, including a quick double play in the first inning and a nice running catch by Marwin Gonzalez in the eighth. The most timely stop, however, came with two runners on in the seventh, when George Springer leapt at the wall to rob Todd Frazier of what looked like a two-run extra-base hit.
George Springer, are you serious?! https://t.co/8a7u362Ado
— Sports Illustrated (@SInow) October 21, 2017
And, of course, on the mound Houston received another heroic outing from Verlander, whom they acquired in August with just this kind of outing in mind. As Altuve said on Fox after the victory, “I literally love Justin Verlander.”
Luis Severino, starting for the Yankees, kept pace with Verlander through four innings but cracked in the fifth, conceding two walks, a double, another walk and a single. He was replaced by Chad Green, who held Houston at bay until the eighth, when David Robertson allowed a cascade of solid hits to revitalized Astros hitters
On an otherwise disappointing evening, the Yankees’ sole highlight came in the top of the eighth, when Aaron Judge launched a moonshot off Brad Peacock to plate New York’s only run.
But Peacock promptly escaped the inning, Ken Giles pitched a scoreless ninth, and the teams headed for Game 7.
The Astros are obviously glad to have another game to play, but they have reason to be a bit nervous. Houston will start Charlie Morton, who allowed seven runs in Game 3, backed up perhaps by Lance McCullers on short rest. The arrangement is not exactly ideal. At some point, manager A.J. Hinch will have to call on a bullpen that has struggled throughout this postseason, most notably in a brutal Game 4 loss on Tuesday. Hinch made things a bit more difficult for himself by using Giles with a six-run lead Friday instead of letting Peacock or another reliever close out the comfortable win. Giles wound up throwing 23 pitches, which could limit how long he can go during Game 7 on Saturday.
The Yankees, meanwhile, will start CC Sabathia, a hero of their postseason run so far. It was Sabathia who came through in Game 3 with his team down 2-0 in the series, firing six scoreless innings in a New York win. Even if he falters early, manager Joe Girardi can turn to a relatively rested bullpen.
But although the Yankees might look good on paper entering Saturday’s decisive contest, we all know crazy things can happen in Game 7s, with pitchers throwing on short rest and adrenaline pumping through every player on the field. We can hardly wait.