Yanks blank Astros, seize ALCS lead
NEW YORK -- Thirty-two minutes into Game 5 of the American League Championship Series, the New York Yankees scored their first run off Dallas Keuchel in a postseason setting.
About 25 minutes later, the New York scored another run off the ace left-hander, and 49,647 fans at Yankee Stadium along with the Yankees themselves, exhaled thinking, “Finally, we got a couple of runs off this guy.”
More than two hours later, fans sang “New York, New York” at the top of their lungs walking out of Yankee Stadium toward the subways and to their cars as the Yankees prepared for a return trip to Houston with a chance to clinch the pennant.
Greg Bird drove in the first run against Keuchel, Aaron Judge drove in the second run against the Houston ace, and Masahiro Tanaka pitched seven outstanding innings as New York moved to the brink of clinching a trip to the World Series with a 5-0 victory on Wednesday.
The Yankees lead the best-of-seven ALCS 3-2. They are one win from their 41st pennant and their first since beating the Los Angeles Angels in 2009.
“Any time you’re able to score off a starter early, especially someone who you haven’t scored off of at all, I think it does feel better,” Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. “Yes, we can break through.”
Justin Verlander awaits New York’s lineup in Game 6, but thanks to Bird and Judge and others breaking through against Keuchel, the Yankees do not face elimination in their return to Houston.
On Monday, the Yankees took the field in their second straight 2-0 hole following a pair of 2-1 losses to start the series. Then they thumped the Astros 8-1 in Game, 3, produced a stirring rally in Game 4 and then finally generated their long-awaited offense off Keuchel.
Keuchel (1-1) held a 14-inning scoreless streak against the Yankees when Bird stepped in with Starlin Castro on second and two outs in the second. The left-hander pitched six innings in the 2015 AL wild-card game in New York and then shut out the Yankees in seven innings in Game 1 on Friday.
Bird lined a 2-0 pitch to right field as Castro, who had hit a long double to deep left, easily scored.
“Just getting a win and off a great starter like him is big,” Bird said after the Yankees went 5-for-13 with two outs.
An inning later, Judge drove in his 10th run of the postseason with a ground-ball double down the left field line just out of third baseman Alex Bregman’s reach. Brett Gardner, who was on first base, slid in head-first at the plate after third base coach Joe Espada frantically waved him once the ball reached the warning track.
”He’s as tough as anybody on us,“ Yankees designated hitter Chase Headley, who had three hits, said of Keuchel. ”And to really break through in the second inning to get a run, I thought that lifted everybody’s spirits and gave us some confidence that we could get to him going forward.
New York’s spirits continued getting a boost with two more runs in the fifth when Gary Sanchez singled in Headley with a hit down the left field line and Didi Gregorius placed a run-scoring single just under Jose Altuve’s glove as the second baseman attempted to make a diving stop.
”That’s the big thing, is getting the first run off of someone like that,“ Judge said. ”You have to get him early when you can because if he gets in a groove, he’s unhittable.
The capper was a 407-foot homer by Sanchez, a little over 24 hours after his two-run double in the eighth inning of Game 4.
“I think our offense collectively did a great job of scoring some runs, and it was really fun to watch that,” Tanaka said through an interpreter.
New York’s postseason breakthrough off Keuchel was more than enough for Tanaka, who allowed three hits, struck out eight, walked one and recorded nine outs on the ground.
Tanaka (1-1) escaped minor trouble in the second by stranding Yuli Gurriel and three innings later by getting strikeouts on George Springer and Carlos Correa.
Shortly after those strikeouts, Keuchel walked off the mound after allowing four runs on seven hits in 4 2/3 innings.
“It was more about them hitting good pitches,” Houston manager A.J. Hinch said. “He got under duress early, they got a two-out base hit to score a run. Once you get behind in the playoffs, you have to be pretty perfect -- at least it feels that way.”
While Keuchel struggled, so did Houston’s lineup, which is hitting .147 in the series. Altuve and Correa were a combined 2-for-22 in the three games at New York.
“It’s rare because of how much offense we put up through the first six months of the season and even in the Division Series,” Hinch said. “We’ve swung the bats very well, and to this day, I believe we’re one good game (from) coming out of it.”
NOTES: The Yankees produced their 31st shutout in a postseason game, the most among any team and six ahead of the San Francisco Giants. ... Houston was shut out in the postseason for the first time since Game 4 of the 2005 World Series against the Chicago White Sox. ... Former New York and Houston LHP Andy Pettitte threw out the ceremonial first pitch.