Originally Published: October 15, 2017 5:56 a.m.
HOUSTON — Swing and a miss.
After striking out 27 times in Houston, the New York Yankees are down 0-2 in the playoffs again.
Maybe they just need to get to the potential elimination games — the Yankees don't seem to lose those.
"We've been facing some tough pitchers and some tough games," rookie slugger Aaron Judge said. "We're just going to keep going out there and keep fighting."
New York catcher Gary Sanchez was unable to come up with a short-hop relay throw from shortstop Didi Gregorius with Jose Altuve charging toward the plate in the bottom of the ninth inning, and the Astros won 2-1 Saturday for a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven AL Championship Series.
Sanchez said he simply dropped the ball on a play he's used to making.
"The bottom line is if I catch that ball he's going to be out," Sanchez said through a translator.
New York has lost the first two games by the same tight score to Houston aces Dallas Keuchel and Justin Verlander, both former Cy Young Award winners. So just like in the Division Series, the Yankees are down 0-2 and headed back home.
"It's not like we haven't been here before," said manager Joe Girardi, who turned 53 on Saturday. "But these are two tough losses."
In their best-of-five set against the 102-win Cleveland Indians, the Yankees won three straight games when facing elimination to get to their first ALCS since 2012. And that was after winning a win-or-go-home wild-card game against Minnesota.
But after striking out 14 times in the ALCS opener, including 10 against Keuchel in his seven innings, the Yankees whiffed another 13 times Saturday against Verlander, who threw 124 pitches in a complete game.
Game 3 is Monday night at Yankee Stadium, with CC Sabathia scheduled to pitch for New York against Charlie Morton.
The Yankees have lost seven straight ALCS games dating to 2010.
Verlander was done by the time hard-throwing Yankees closer Aroldis Chapman entered in the ninth with a scoreless streak of 18 2/3 innings dating to the last time he gave up a run, on Aug. 25 against Seattle.
But then Altuve hit a one-out single and scored when Carlos Correa lined a double into the right-center gap.
Judge cut off the ball at the edge of the warning track, but his throw went over the head of second baseman Starlin Castro to Gregorius on one hop at second base. Gregorius wheeled and, perhaps impeded a bit by Correa's popup slide at second, short-hopped his throw to Sanchez.
The ball arrived in plenty of time to get Altuve, who raced all the way around from first, but Sanchez couldn't make a clean pick and the ball squirted away as Altuve slid in safely with the winning run.
"If he comes up with it, it's an out," said Girardi, who quickly inquired with umpires as the Astros and their fans were starting a frenzied celebration. "I just wanted to make sure there was no interference. I didn't see any interference at second. ... It was a popup slide, that's legal. You're kind of hoping."
Correa homered in the fourth for the Astros — a play that evoked memories of Jeffery Maier in the 1996 ALCS at Yankee Stadium — when a 12-year-old Houston fan reached for the liner just over the right-field wall. The ball appeared to already be beyond the reach of Judge, who was still moving toward the fence when the ball ricocheted off the boy's glove on top of the wall and into the seats.
"I got back there a little late. He took a good swing on a ball off the plate," Judge said. "I just wasn't able to get back and get a good read to the wall and get up there and make a play."
The 6-foot-7 Judge had a homer-robbing grab in Game 3 of the ALDS, when the Yankees won 1-0 to stay alive in that series.
A few pitches after Correa's homer, Girardi and a trainer went out to check on starter Luis Severino when he uncharacteristically wound his pitching arm a few times. The 23-year-old right-hander stayed in the game then, and got the inning-ending out on a comebacker that appeared to strike the wrist of his non-pitching hand.
But Severino didn't come out for the fifth, after the Yankees tied the game on back-to-back doubles by Aaron Hicks and Todd Frazier in the top of the inning. Severino threw only 62 pitches.
"I think it is my responsibility to protect this kid," Girardi said. "I couldn't take a chance."
Girardi said Severino checked out fine with team doctors. The pitcher certainly didn't agree with getting pulled so early.
"I told him I was good. They told me they saw something," Severino said. "I told them that I was good and I wanted to go pitch. ... I feel great. My arm feels great. I can go 20 or 30 innings more."