Monday, June 29, 2015

Yankees Split 4 In Houston


The Yankees began a Western roadtrip with 4 games in Houston against the resurgent Astros. The Astros haven't made the Playoffs since their 2005 Pennant. Their last winning season was in 2008 -- 7 years ago. Their last 4 seasons, they've lost 106, 107, 111 and 92 games.

It's rare for a team to lose 106 or more games, especially if it's not an expansion team. The Astros did it 3 years in a row. They're not an expansion team. Nor did they suffer a catastrophe that cost them the services of several key players. (Thankfully, that has never happened in North American major league sports. There's never been an analogue to the Munich Air Disaster of 1958, which killed 8 Manchester United soccer players, and injured 2 others to the point where they could never play again.) Nor do they have problems maintaining an old, dysfunctional stadium: Minute Maid Park is in its 16th season, and no one is suggesting it be replaced or even upgraded.

Nor is the club having Mets-type financial issues: They've kept payroll low, but that was a choice. After the aging of the generation that got them to 6 Playoff berths in 9 seasons from 1997 to 2005, including Hall-of-Famer Craig Biggio and should-be-Hall-of-Famer Jeff Bagwell, Astro management figured it would be better to rebuild than to reload.

It took a few years, but they're doing it. They gained 19 games from 2013 to 2014. The switch from the National League Central to the American League West didn't help in '13, but maybe it did for '14. At the conclusion of this series with the Yankees, they are 44-34, 4 games ahead of the Whatever They're Calling Themselves This Season Angels of Anaheim, and in all of Major League Baseball, only the Missouri teams, the Kansas City Royals and the St. Louis Cardinals, have a better record.

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On Thursday night, they didn't pound Yankee starter Adam Warren. More like sliced him, and then reliever Chris Capuano, who actually pitched one of his better games since coming to the Yankees. They scored single runs in the 2nd, 4th, 6th and 8th innings, none with the use of a home run (although 3 of the 4 came as a result of doubles -- either the run scorer had doubled, or a double drove him in).

Dallas Keuchel -- a pitcher for Houston named Dallas? Is somebody trying to "mess with Texas"? -- pitched a complete game, throwing 116 pitches, which probably bothered Joe Girardi more than the defeat, seeing as how he sees the pitch count as more important than the score. He allowed just 6 hits and 1 walk, and it wasn't until the 9th inning that the Yankees even got a runner to 2nd base.

The Yankees did load the bases in the 9th, and did get the tying run to the plate. With 2 outs, Alex Rodriguez singled, Mark Teixeira walked, and Carlos Beltran singled, but A-Rod couldn't get home. That left it up to rookie Jose Pirela. If he'd hit one out, and Minute Maid Park is a hitter's park, it would have tied the game. Alas, he grounded into a force play. He will have his moments for the Yankees, but this past Thursday night was not destined to be one of them.

Sometimes, you lose a game because you've blown it. Sometimes, you just get shut down by a pitcher who's on, and there's little you can do about it.

Astros 4, Yankees 0. WP: Keuchel (9-3). No save. LP: Warren (5-5).

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On Friday night, the Yankees fell behind 2-0 after 6 innings. Vincent Velasquez had the Yankees handcuffed, every bit as much as Keuchel had the night before.

Except, this time, the Yankees found a Harry Houdini escape from those handcuffs. With 1 out in the top of the 7th, Beltran, the Astros' postseason hero of 2004, singled. Garrett Jones followed with another single. Will Harris came in to relieve, and Chris Young said, "Abracadabra!" Had he merely sawed the Astros' lead in half, with a single to make it 2-1, I would have been fine with it. But no, he made the lead disappear, with a home run over the short left-field wall with the CITGO sign, the Astros' poor attempt at copying Fenway Park's Green Monster.

Yes, I know, in New York baseball, the word "magic" is more often associated with the Mets. As is "miracle." With the Yankees, we more often use words like "pride," "tradition," "destiny."

At any rate, Nathan Eovaldi had pitched well enough to win, but until the 7th, he hadn't gotten the run support he needed. Beltran, Jones and Young (sounds like a law firm) got him off the hook, and Girardi brought in Chasen Shreve, who struck out the side.

Naturally, Girardi refused to leave in a cruising pitcher (I will never understand his bullpen maneuvers), and brought in Justin Wilson. He only got the 1st 2 outs in the 8th, and Dellin Betances had to nail down a 4-out save.

Yankees 3, Astros 2. WP: Eovaldi (7-2). SV: Betances (5). LP: Harris (4-1).

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The Yankees played the Saturday game as if they'd had enough of not scoring in the Astros' rinky-dink modern retractable-roof stadium. (The Astrodome, mostly vacant since the Astros left after the 1999 season, and with no firm plan for what to do with it, was a pitcher's park, which was rare for the old-style domes.)

Brian McCann hit a grand slam in the top of the 1st inning to give the Yankees a 4-0 lead before the Astros even came to bat. They got 2 of those runs back in the bottom of the 1st, but the Yankees took them right back in the top of the 2nd, thanks to another Young homer. (McCann's 12th homer of the season, Young's 10th. Remember, we haven't yet left June, much less reached the All-Star Break.)

But Masahiro Tanaka fell apart, and in the 5th, allowed the Astros to tie it at 6-6. Girardi brought in Bryan Mitchell to pitch the 6th inning, and he got through it and into the 7th. Shreve finished that inning off.

Brett Gardner led off the top of the 8th with a walk, Young reached on an error, A-Rod flew out, and Teix doubled home Gardner and Young. Chase Headley added an insurance run in the 9th, with his 8th homer of the year.

Yankees 9, Astros 6. WP: Shreve (5-1). SV: Betances (6). LP: Pat Neshek (3-1).

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Things started out well for the Yankees in the Sunday game, too. With 1 out in the top of the 3rd, Stephen Drew, well, drew a walk. A wild pitch advanced him to 2nd, and Gardner singled him home.

But that was the last good news of the day, as Gardner giveth, and Gardner taketh away. In the bottom of the 4th, Carlos Correa hit a drive to center field that Gardner misplayed, allowing him to get all the way around the bases and score the tying run. In the 7th, Correa struck again, leading off with a double, and coming home on Evan Gattis' triple. The Astros added an insurance run in the 8th.

Michael Pineda pitched decently, but, again, the Yankees didn't generate enough runs, as Collin McHugh shut them down. Astros 3, Yankees 1. WP: McHugh (9-3). SV; Luke Gregerson (18) LP: Pineda (8-5).

The Yankees move further west, to begin a series against the Angels in Anaheim.

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