Just like a huge hit in the record business goes gold, the Yankees two out hit parade was golden in game five of the American League Championship Series.
The Yankees are one win away from an improbable World Series berth thanks to their pitching, which has been magnificent in the post season, and a new found ability to hit in the clutch. The Yankees blanked the Astros 5-0 at Yankee Stadium to keep their home record intact in the post season.
The Yankees, who are 6-0 in the Bronx, swept the three games by outscoring Houston 19-5. 11 of those 19 runs came with two out.
In game three, the Yankees scored all eight runs with two out. Remarkably, the Yankees did not score any two out runs in game four but in game five, they got a couple of huge two out hits against their ol’ nemesis Dallas Keuchel. “The focus tonight was to be aggressive, to not swing at bad pitches,” Gary Sanchez said through a translator after the game.
The former AL Cy Young Award winner was dominating the Yankees early. He set down the first five hitters rather easily (including three consecutive strikeouts at one point) so it appeared the lefthander was settling in but Starlin Castro may have had the biggest at bat of the game because he became the first Yankee hitter to pierce Keuchel’s armor.
Castro smoked a 1-1 pitch from the Astros’ starter off of the left center field wall for a two out double. “It (Castro’s hit) puts pressure on him (Keuchel) early, you know it doesn’t let him settle in,” said Greg Bird, who was the beneficiary of a runner in scoring position. The Yankee first baseman worked Keuchel into a 2-0 count, the southpaw’s first of the game, before stroking a line single down the right field line to score Castro with a crucial first run. The Yankees not only proved they could score off Keuchel but the clutch hit also gave them the lead. Bird knew what he had accomplished with that big hit. “Gettin’ on a great pitcher like that early is key,” Bird said. “You try and take advantage of those situations.”
In the fifth, two out hits eventually knocked Keuchel out of the game. With Chase Headley at second, as the result of a hit and an error and two out, Keuchel walked Aaron Judge. Sanchez had struck out in his first two at bats but he snagged an 0-1 pitch from the Houston pitcher for an RBI single to left and a 3-0 Yankee lead. Didi Gregorius capped off a seven pitch at bat with an RBI single to center to make it 4-0. At that point, Astros’ Manager A.J. Hinch began a slow walk to the mound to take out his ace pitcher. The crowd of 49,647 roared as they were seeing something that they never thought would happen.
Masahiro Tanaka continued a streak of outstanding starting pitching, that the Yankees have gotten this post season, with seven scoreless innings. The righthander, who has lifted his game in the post season, gave up three hits and struck out eight while outpitching Keuchel. Like his outing in the ALDS vs. Cleveland, Tanaka got out of a runner on third, less than two out situation when he retired Carlos Beltran on a grounder to second and Marwin Gonzalez on a comebacker to the mound. In the fifth, Tanaka had two on and one out but he struck out George Springer and Josh Reddick to nullify the rally.
With the bullpen doing their thing and all the great pitching they were getting, the Yankee offense didn’t take advantage of it in the first two games but once they got back to Yankee Stadium, the series took on a different tone. “Our starting pitching has been phenomenal,” said Chase Headley, who had three of the Yankees ten hits. “When they’re keeping you in the game or keeping them (the opponent) with a zero on the board, it kinda takes the pressure off the team.”
The Yankees continued to add to their impressive post season resume’. They rallied from a 3-0 deficit in the Wild Card game. They rallied from a two games to none deficit in the American League Divisional Series. They rallied from a two games to none deficit to grab a three games to two lead in the American League Championship Series and they beat Dallas Keuchel in the process.
The Yankees need to win one of two games in Houston to win their 41st American League pennant. For the Astros, it’s their first elimination game. The Yankees are 4-0 in such games so they know what it takes to stay alive in a series.
Beating Keuchel is the latest hurdle that the Yankees have cleared in the 2017 post season. The next one will be an ability to end a series.