Keidel: Yankees Still In Good Shape Despite Dropping Game 2

Astros Will Have Hunds Full In The Bronx

Jason Keidel
October 14, 2019 - 12:31 pm
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Sometimes a loss is as convincing as a win. 

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Houston had the most wins in baseball this year. They had the biggest run differential. They were 63-21 at home, including the playoffs. They had more motivation. They had the best big-game ace on the mound, who led the American League in wins, innings pitched, WHIP, and strikeouts-to-walk ratio (300-42). 

And yet halfway through the 11th inning, the Astros and Yankees each had two runs on six hits. The Yankees lost with an emaciated bullpen and no white-hot pressure to win when they had already stolen home-field advantage by winning Game 1.  

The Astros could not lose Game 2 of the American League Championship Series and then win the series. Not because they were home, but because Justin Verlander pitched. He was their equalizer, their roadblock from bad losing streaks, their intelligent, intimidating and wildly talented pitcher. Maybe Yankees manager Aaron Boone was a bit too eager with his pitching, playing musical chairs with this relievers and leaving the Yanks bereft of bullpen arms at the end of this game. But he managed the game to win, just as the Bombers played to win. And if not for a meatball from Adam Ottavino, which George Springer launched into deep space, the Yanks may well have walked out of Houston with two wins. 

 Yankees right fielder Aaron Judge celebrates after hitting a two-run home run off Astros pitcher Justin Verlander during Game 2 of the ALCS on Oct. 13, 2019, in Houston.
Thomas B. Shea/USA TODAY Sports

So when Carlos Correa blasted the game-winning homer off of J.A. Happ — who has no business pitching in any high-wire playoff moment, especially in extra innings — Houston saved face, but not the series. 

Now the Astros must leave the perfect climes of their home park and fly north, where the temperature will start to plunge and the fever pitch of playoff baseball returns to its ancestral home. The Astros will not find their favorite thread counts, loving fans or home cooking when they enter the crucible of Yankee Stadium. And while it's perilous to predict three losses in five games for a team as gifted and gritty as the Astros, they are in real trouble now. 

These aren't the Rays. With all due respect to Tampa Bay, an underrated, hardscrabble bunch that wins games despite all the inherent handicaps of a small market and galling home ballpark, the Yankees are here to win. They don't just match the Astros in talent, they surpass them in pedigree, in home-field advantage and gut-growling hunger to win a World Series that has eluded the Bronx Bombers for a decade. 

And unlike 2017, when Houston nudged past a pesky Yankees group that was largely happy to be there, the 2019 ALCS features a Yankees team in full. Two years ago, the Bombers shocked everyone by reaching Game 7 of the ALCS. In 2018, they ran into Boston's rolling ball of butcher knives. This year, the Yankees are that thing, that monster, that bottomless lineup that will eventually doom even the deepest rotations. 

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As thrilling as Sunday night's game was — and it was almost impossible to walk away from the TV set for even a moment — it meant exponentially more to Houston than it did to New York. When the starting pitching was close to even, as it was in Game 1, the Yankees mopped the floor with the Astros and toyed with them for nine innings in a 7-0 rout. 

Yes, Gerrit Cole is starting Game 3. Cole may be the only pitcher more deadly than Verlander at the moment. He hasn't lost a single start since May 22, going 16-0 to finish the regular season. Cole has been equally sublime in the postseason, posting a 2-0 record and 0.57 ERA. The only reason Verlander (21-6) wouldn't bag the Cy Young is that Cole (20-5) would. 

But the Yankees aren't so dependent on any pitcher or position player. They've whipped teams at full strength and half-strength, and went 103-59 despite setting the all-time record for trips to the injured list … back in August! 

It's easy to forget the first game of the ALCS because the Yanks made it look so simple. Then add an 11-inning nail-biter with Houston's entire season on the line, and the chatter will revolve around the Astros' resilience. And there's a reason the Astros are here. They have the best rotation in the sport, more than enough bangers in the lineup and have more than enough moxie to make any club sweat. 

But unlike 2017, they are not the best team in baseball. That distinction goes to the Yankees. And over the next three games, in the Bronx, the Yankees plan to prove it. 

Follow Jason on Twitter at @JasonKeidel.