Winning streaks are coveted events in any sport, and infrequently hard to come back by. The Houston Astros had only three in the course of the regular season that lasted six games or longer, and all of those involved opponents just like the Detroit Tigers, the Oakland Athletics, the Kansas City Royals and the Washington Nationals — the dregs of the foremost leagues.
The playoffs are imagined to be tougher, with the perfect competition from each leagues. But even with that, the Astros have built one other impressive streak within the postseason by winning their first six games. Their 5-0 victory over the Yankees in Game 3 of the American League Championship Series at Yankee Stadium on Saturday kept them undefeated in these playoffs and looking out a considerable step above the competition.
“I believe we just have a bitter taste from last yr, losing the World Series,” said Chas McCormick, whose two-run homer off Gerrit Cole was all of the offense Houston needed. “We desired to get back here again. We knew we had an amazing team. We’re just hungry. We’re really hungry and we wish to win as much as possible. We wish to get a hoop.”
With that as their motivation, the Astros have relied on their formidable pitching staff and deep, experienced lineup, to easily overwhelm the Yankees, just as they did the Seattle Mariners of their three-game sweep in that division series. In the primary two games of the A.L.C.S. the Astros pitchers struck the Yankees out 30 times and in Game 3 they threw a combined three-hit shutout.
“They’re really good,” said Aaron Boone, the Yankees manager, “and clearly it starts with their pitching. ”
Can any of the remaining three teams beat the Astros in a game, let alone a series? The Yankees will ask Nestor Cortes, their popular starting pitcher, to reply that query as he takes the ball Sunday night for Game 4 against Lance McCullers Jr. of the Astros.
Just one team in postseason baseball history has come back from an 0-3 deficit, the Boston Red Sox, who did it against the Yankees within the 2004 A.L.C.S. No less than the Yankees know it might be done.
“We’ve got a shot,” said Gerrit Cole, the Yankees starter, who was charged with the loss. “We just need to play it one pitch at a time.”
But they may need to completely reverse their fortunes including Aaron Judge, who went 0 for 4 and left 3 runners on base. Judge is batting .156 within the postseason and is 1 for 12 within the three games against Houston.
In the course of the regular season the Yankees won 99 games, relying heavily on home runs, and at times early in the summertime they looked like the perfect team in baseball, with Yankee Stadium hosting nightly victory celebrations. But those blissful feelings have been replaced by frustration and booing.
With their team’s season suddenly on the brink, disenchanted fans showered the Yankees with boos on several occasions Saturday. Even Judge, the darling of baseball, who hit an American League-record 62 home runs this yr, heard jeers when he struck out within the sixth inning.
“I definitely understand their frustration,” Judge said, and added, “I understand why there’s boos and why there’s yelling at times. But we’ve got to select it up as a team.”
Because the game progressed, the booing only got louder.
“I believe they were booing rather a lot tonight,” said Josh Donaldson, who went 0 for 3 with two strikeouts.
The Astros opened the scoring within the second inning on McCormick’s home run, but he may not have even gone to bat within the inning if not for a mistake within the outfield by the Yankees.
With two outs, Christian Vázquez lifted a routine fly ball to right-center. Each Harrison Bader and Judge converged on it, and Bader dropped it. Vázquez was so unaware of the gaffe that after he stepped on first base he turned back toward the Astros dugout and took several steps before he realized the ball had landed safely and he needed to scramble back to the bottom.
It must have been the ultimate out of the inning. As an alternative, McCormick laced a line drive to right that hardly cleared the fence and a collective groan went through the stadium.
Cole suppressed any irritation and set down the subsequent six batters he faced and didn’t allow one other hit until Jose Altuve’s double with one out within the fifth. It was Altuve’s first hit for the reason that regular season concluded after going 0 for 25, a record to start out a postseason.
Within the sixth, the Astros loaded the bases with none out and Boone removed Cole, who had thrown 96 pitches and looked drained, in favor of the right-hander Lou Trivino. Trey Mancini drove home a run with a sacrifice fly and Vázquez singled to left, scoring two more. All five of the runs batted in were credited to the seven, eight and nine hitters.
A former Astro himself, Cole was asked what makes them so good.
“Their ability to hit good pitches,” he said.
Based on Justin Verlander, the Astros ace, Houston’s approach has been to supply no quarter, which has helped them remain undefeated n postseason play.
“All the blokes, especially the blokes who’ve been here, are only preaching to maintain your foot on the gas,” he said. “You never know what can occur. Playoffs is a funny thing. Without delay, we obviously have some momentum, where you’re playing good baseball. But zero complacency. That’s sort of the theme. Just come here tomorrow and take a look at to win a game like we’re down 3-0.”
If the Yankees haven’t already subconsciously conceded, Game 4 presents an intriguing matchup. McCullers was imagined to start Game 3 but he sustained an unusual injury in the course of the Astros victory celebration per week ago in Seattle. Within the midst of the clubhouse party after Houston’s series-clinching win over the Mariners, someone by accident bashed McCullers in the fitting elbow with a bottle of champagne.
McCullers respectfully declined to say who swung the offending bottle, but he said there was a small cut and a few swelling. The team decided to present him an additional day of rest, especially because McCullers had Tommy John surgery on the identical elbow in 2018.
“I’m confident,” Astros Manager Dusty Baker said before Game 3 on Saturday. “I saw him throw yesterday.”
McCullers, who has a 2.56 earned run average in 17 profession postseason games, will face Cortes, who takes the ball in a desperate situation. He last pitched in Game 5 of the Yankees’ division series against the Cleveland Guardians on Oct. 18 at Yankee Stadium, and allowed just one run and three hits in five innings. But that was Cleveland, not the Astros, who’ve appeared within the A.L.C.S. six consecutive years.
With another win against the Yankees, the Astros can be playing of their second consecutive World Series, and for now, nobody seems in a position to stop them.
Gary Phillips contributed reporting.