HOUSTON — Aaron Judge ran up the first base line with his bat in his right hand in the eighth inning Thursday night, hoping more than believing he’d finally broken through. The Yankees slugger watched as the fly ball he hit 106 miles an hour off the bat died in the wind of an unusually opened roof at Minute Maid Park.
This is a place where the Yankees’ league-leading offense has come to die. Again. Framber Valdez was brilliant, but the Bombers offense struggled for the second-straight night Thursday as the Astros beat the Yankees 3-2 in Game 2 of the American League Championship Series.
“Tough to say, some guys hit balls right at guys that make great plays and in other instances they make their pitches and you just gotta tip your cap,” Judge said when asked about the Bombers’ bats going quiet. “It’s the postseason, anything can happen and we just have to keep playing our game and we’ll be where we want to be.”
Right now, however, the Yankees find themselves in the hole.
The Astros take a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven games series, which heads back to the Bronx for Game 3 on Saturday. The Yankees have their ace Gerrit Cole set to start the critical game at Yankees Stadium. MLB teams taking a 2-0 lead in a best-of-seven series have gone on to win in 74 of 88 (84.1%) series all-time. The Yankees have overcome an 0-2 deficit six times previously, the last time in the 2017 AL Division Series against the Guardians.
“I mean, we’ve been here before. We were down two (games) in ‘17 and we won three games in New York,” Luis Severino said of the first ALCS they eventually lost to the Astros. “So, we’ve got a good team, we’re just gonna go home and play baseball.”
The Astros have now won eight of nine home playoff games all-time against the Yankees. The Astros pitching has limited the Bombers to just 13 runs across those eight losses.
And the Houston pitching has all but shut down the Yankees bats again this year.
In the first two games of this series, the home-run-reliant Yankees’ offense has one homer, scored a total of four runs and struck out 30 times.
“I think we all have to make mid at-bat adjustments, in order to put the ball in play,” Giancarlo Stanton said. “The games are extremely fast and they’re reading swings, reading body language, you have to be able to counteract that.”
Valdez was dominant. He held the Yankees to two runs, both unearned because of his own fielding and throwing errors, and scattered four hits. The lefty did not walk a batter and struck out nine.
“He was using both sides of the plate and you know, he’s got a good sinker so it was tough for us to get the ball in the air and do damage,” Stanton said.
The Yankees scored their two runs with a little help from Valdez. Judge singled to lead off and Valdez’s fielding error allowed Stanton to reach and then when he threw wide of first base, it allowed Judge to take third. Judge scored on Anthony Rizzo’s ground out and Stanton on a Gleyber Torres single.
With Torres on, Josh Donaldson, who had doubled earler, struck out.
That’s not usually how the Yankees score runs.
The Yankees have scored 18 of their 22 runs in this postseason via the home run. The Bombers did not homer for the first time in their last 23 postseason games. They were 14-26 games in which they did not homer this season.
It was a disappointing night for Severino, who was very good. He held the Astros to three runs on five hits over 5.1 innings. He struck out six and walked one.
Severino started out the bottom of the third by hitting Houston catcher Martin Maldanoado with a pitch. He struck out the struggling Jose Altuve, got another out on Yordan Alvarez’s fielder’s choice and then got ahead of Alex Bregman 1-2, before the Astros third baseman crushed a three-run homer on Severino’s 97-mile-an-hour fastball.
One pitch that maybe was as high up in the zone as he would have liked and Severino dropped to 0-4 in the postseason over his career. Judge’s fly ball would have been a home run in just one ballpark in the league — the one the Yankees and Astros are heading to. But with a day off on Friday, they have to figure out a way to get back their dominating offense back on track.
“We got to score. Swing and miss the idea ain’t just to touch it. You got to touch it in situations. We got to score,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said. “They’re about as tough as there is to score against. But we got to figure out a way and it takes all of us from a game plan standpoint to every guy in that lineup just doing their part to make it a little more difficult on ‘em.”