HOUSTON — The Yankees’ improbable run toward a World Series ticket will end Saturday night in ecstasy or heartbreak.
With a chance to win the ALCS on Friday night by beating the Astros at Minute Maid Park, the Yankees were dominated by Justin Verlander and done in by Luis Severino’s wildness and Houston’s punishing of David Robertson’s pitches.
So, the 7-1 loss that was witnessed by 43,179 sets up a Game 7 Saturday night when the Yankees will send CC Sabathia to the mound and the Astros will counter with Charlie Morton. It’s a rematch of Game 3, when Sabathia provided six shutout innings and the Yankees spanked Morton for seven runs in 3²/₃ innings.
“Tip your cap to Verlander, he pitched a helluva game,’’ said Todd Frazier, who missed a three-run homer off the right-hander by a few feet in the seventh as center fielder George Springer made a jumping catch on the drive. “One run is not going to win a game.’’
In order to get to the World Series for the first time since they won it in 2009 the Yankees need to do something they haven’t done much of this postseason: Win away from The Bronx.
They are 1-5 outside of Yankee Stadium and 6-0 inside it. The lone win was a deciding Game 5 victory over the Indians in the ALDS.
Across four innings Friday night’s game didn’t look like the one that ended. Severino matched Verlander before experiencing control problems that didn’t allow him to complete the fifth.
Severino allowed a walk and a single through four, but melted in the fifth when he gave up three runs, issued three walks and was tagged for two-run double by Jose Altuve and an RBI double by Brian McCann.
“After the first batter got a leadoff walk everything happened so fast,’’ Severino said. “I didn’t know what happened.’’
Frazier’s fly ball, which Verlander believed was a home run off the bat, helped kill the Yankees’ best scoring chance. Nevertheless, the previous inning, Gary Sanchez made an awful decision when, with runners on first and second and two outs, he went after a 3-0 breaking ball with a check swing and grounded out.
“Those two innings we had to capitalize on and we weren’t able to do it,’’ Joe Girardi said.
Aaron Judge’s solo home off Brad Peacock in the eighth cut the deficit to 3-1, giving the Yankees a chance that Robertson torched. Altuve greeted Robertson with a leadoff homer in the eighth and the next three batters doubled, singled and doubled. Dellin Betances replaced Robertson and gave up a sacrifice fly to Evan Gattis to make it 7-1.
“Every good pitch I threw they hit,’’ said Robertson, who threw a dozen pitches and said he will be ready for Game 7.
Every voice in a very quiet clubhouse expressed confidence in Sabathia, who is 10-0 with a 1.69 ERA this year (postseason included) in games following a loss. That’s what is expected from teammates but after scoring nine runs in five games the Astros’ lineup, which led the majors in runs scored during the regular season, might have escaped a team-wide hitting funk.
“Momentum might have shifted a little bit,’’ Frazier said. “When you win by that big of a margin it shifted. But everyone will be prepared. We have CC going and our offense will come alive again.’’
Morton isn’t Verlander. Sabathia is unbeaten in his past 11 starts, including the postseason. There are reasons to believe in the Yankees.
So, after coming back in the wild-card game against the Twins, escaping a 0-2 ditch versus the Indians in the ALDS and crawling back to lead the ALCS, 3-2, after trailing, 0-2, the Yankees find themselves in the ultimate ecstasy or heartbreak Game 7.
“What an opportunity, we wouldn’t want it any other way,’’ Judge said. “Game 7 of the LCS. This is it.’’