Yankees vs Astros score, takeaway: Houston returns to World Series as New York season ends in sweep

NEW YORK — For the fourth time in six years, the Houston Astros are American League champions. On Sunday night, the Astros completed their authoritative ALCS sweep of the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium (HOU 6, NYY 5). It’s the third time in the last six years and the fourth time in the last eight years that the Astros have eliminated the Yankees in the playoffs.

The Astros were unable to stifle the Yankees’ offense as Games 1-3, and instead had to rally from the start of the 3-0 deficit in Game 4. Starter Lance McCullers Jr. folded but didn’t completely break, and the Astros hung around long enough. until they could capitalize on another Yankees defensive error. Houston outscored the Yankees 18-9 in all four games.

The Philadelphia Phillies dispatched the San Diego Padres in Game 5 of the NLCS earlier on Sunday, so the World Series game is set. It’s Astros vs. Phillies starting Friday, Oct. 28 in Houston. Here are five takeaways from Sunday’s Game 4.

1. The Yankees struck first

Five batters in Game 4, the Yankees tied their Game 3 hit total. Harrison Bader opened the inning with a single to the center, Anthony Rizzo took a toe shot, then Giancarlo Stanton laced a single RBI right. Gleyber Torres kicked a second inning with a bloop into no man’s land to shallow right center, giving the Yankees a 2-0 lead. Three hits in the first inning of Game 4 after three hits in Game 3.

New York added a third run in the second inning, when Rizzo drove a grounder just out of Alex Bregman’s reach at third base. The two-out hit led Isiah Kiner-Falefa, who doubled to start the inning. The Yankees were in danger of losing that double before Rizzo passed. He was New York’s most stable hitter in the playoffs.

Before the first 3-0 lead in Game 4, the Yankees hadn’t held an ALCS lead since Bader’s second solo home run in Game 1. That lead lasted six batters. In fact, the Yankees and Astros had played 10 games this year before Game 4, and they’re the only six batters to come to the plate with New York leading. (Both of their regular-season wins over Houston were forfeits.)

2. Cortes injured himself and gave up his head

Something was clearly wrong with Nestor Cortes in the third inning. His command wavered in innings one and two, but he puts zeros on the scoreboard and then he opened inning three with back-to-back walks. Not only was his command faltering, but Cortes lost speed on his fastball. This is a red flag:

Manager Aaron Boone and the coach came out to talk to Cortes and it was a quick chat. Cortes told them he was fine, he stayed in the game, and then a few pitches later he served a three-run home run to Jeremy Peña. Just like that, New York’s 3-0 lead was gone and Cortes was out of the game after another visit from Boone and the coach. The Yankees say it’s a left groin injury, and during an in-game interview with TBS, Boone said Cortes has been dealing with it since his first playoff start.

Needless to say, sticking with an injured pitcher – the Yankees have access to the same live speed data as us and they surely knew Cortes’ heater was down, and he wasn’t locating – in a win-or- go- the home game was a questionable decision at best. Of course, the player will say that he is healthy and can stay in the game. They all do. It’s up to the manager and coaches to do more than listen to the player and make the best decision for the team, and Boone didn’t do that by leaving Cortes.

Either way, with the score tied and the season on the line, the Yankees went to left-hander Wandy Peralta, one of their high-leverage trusted arms. It was only the third inning, but the middle of the order was due, and now was not the time to play with lesser relievers. Alas and unfortunately, Peralta gave up hits to three of the next four batters, and the Astros took a 4-3 lead. One of the three was a comebacker who hit him in the right wrist, just above the glove.

Cortes missed about three weeks with the same injury in late August and early September. The Yankees have no more games to play, but losing Cortes would have been a devastating blow had they kept their season alive. It’s also good news that it’s not an arm injury. It would have been a tough way for the man they call Nasty Nestor to end his breakout season.

3. Rizzo and Bader gave the Yankees another lead

The Yankees didn’t go easy after blowing a 3-0 lead and falling behind 4-3. In the fourth, Bader and Rizzo built a run with a single, a passed ball and another single to tie the game. Then, in the sixth, Bader broke the tie and gave the Yankees a 5-4 lead with a long, hard solo home run to left field. To action pictures:

It was Bader’s fifth homer in the playoffs. He homered five times in 86 regular season games, all with the Cardinals before being traded to the Yankees at the deadline. The five home runs tie him for fourth by a Yankee in a single postseason. Only Bernie Williams (1996), Alex Rodriguez (2009) and Giancarlo Stanton (2020) had more. They had six each. Williams threw the ceremonial first pitch before Game 4, coincidentally.

Bader and Rizzo went 5 for 8 in Game 5. The rest of the Yankees went 1 for 28. That’s not saying much, but those two led the Yankees charge offensively for the Yankees in the ALCS. They had little or no help. Two players won’t win you a playoff series, especially against a team like Houston.

4. The Yankees made another crucial mistake

You have to play near-flawless baseball to beat the Astros, and the Yankees did anything but. In Game 4, Bader and Aaron Judge miscommunicated on a routine fly ball, turning an easy outing into baserunner. The next batter hit a two-run homer to give the Astros a 2-0 lead and all the runs they needed.

The Game 5 gameplay error was even more damaging. After Jose Altuve beat a field single to put the tying run on base with an out in the seventh, Peña threw a potential 4-6-3 double-play on the ground, but the Yankees instead turned it into a zero withdrawal. Gleyber Torres rushed the feed to second base and Kiner-Falefa fell on the sack awkwardly and couldn’t catch. Torres got the error but both guys screwed up. The feed was rushed but on the bag, and still no output was made.

Naturally, the Astros tied the game on the very next pitch. Yordan Alvarez rolled a grounder across the right side of the infield to tie things up at 5-5, then Bregman fielded a right single to give the Astros a 6-5 lead. Giving Houston four outs in an inning — the Yankees basically gave them five outs this inning — is a good way to lose a series.

Jonathan Loáisiga did a hero’s job before being betrayed by his defense, striking out seven of the eight batters he faced without a fly ball leaving the infield. The only base runner allowed was Altuve’s single in the field, which had to be reviewed because it was so close. The Astros bullpen only allowed Bader’s homer in four otherwise flawless innings. The last 10 Yankees to beat after Bader’s homer have been eliminated. And that’s it for the 2022 Yankees.

5. See You Next

The World Series. It will be Astros vs. Phillies when the Fall Classic kicks off Friday, Oct. 28 in Houston. We have to wait four days without baseball until then. Presumably, Justin Verlander (18-4, 1.75 ERA) and Aaron Nola (11-13, 3.25 ERA) will get the ball in Game 1, although the Phillies could bring back NLCS Game starter Zack Wheeler (12 -7, 2.82 ERA) on normal rest.

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