“There’s no place like home” couldn’t have summed up this ALCS any better.
An inability to win on the road finally caught up to the Yankees. The Astros ended the Yankees season last night as they captured game seven, 4-0, to win the second pennant in franchise history (2005 NL Champs) and their first in the American League.
In four games at Minute Maid Park, the Yankees scored a total of three runs. That just doesn’t cut it as the Yankees’ magical run came to an end. “We just ran into a very good team that beat us,” an emotional Yankee Manager Joe Girardi said after the game.
No matter how good a team is, there is always a flaw or two that can be exploited in the post season.
The Astros’ flaw is their bullpen so their starters picked up the slack. Remember, in the first two games that Houston won by scores of 2-1, their starting pitching gave them 16 of the 18 innings. Last night, the ‘Stros used two starters to get 27 outs and in all four home games, Houston’s bullpen tossed a total of four innings. The Yankees never really exploited Houston’s weakness.
I can’t say how many times I’ve written this but the Yankees were not a good road team in 2017. Their offense seemed to disappear on the road, even against mediocre pitching.
The fifth inning last night was a microcosm of the Yankees’ season. A lead off double by Greg Bird is followed by a Starlin Castro strikeout, a non productive out. (How many times did they fail to move a runner from second with no one out) The Yanks got a break when a ball got past catcher Brian McCann on a walk to put runners on first and third. Todd Frazier hit a chopper to third but Bird was thrown out at home on a gamble and a nice play by third baseman Alex Bregman. Chase Headley bounced out and you could feel the air come out of the balloon.
The Astros laid the hammer down in their half of the fifth and showed the Yankees what they’re missing offensively. Jose Altuve’s solo home run made it 2-0. Carlos Correa followed with a hit to keep the momentum going. With Correa on the move, Yuli Gurriel stroked a hit and run single to the vacated area on the right side. (Do the Yankees ever do that?) Former Yankee McCann, who made the defensive play in the top of the inning, then buried his old team in the bottom half with a two run double for a 4-0 lead.
A momentum swing like that in a “do or die” game is a crusher.
The Yankees don’t manufacture runs but the excuse was “that’s not the way they play.” Well it’s also a reason they leave runners on base and a reason they don’t win on the road. Houston’s catchers were McCann and Evan Gattis and the Yankees never challenged their less than average arms.
The Yankees did not play solid fundamental baseball in this series. They made too many base running mistakes, particularly in the first two games of the ALCS while the Astros executed and threw out potential runs at the plate.
This one will sting for awhile, it always does when the season comes to an abrupt ending. “The closer you get, the harder it hurts when things are over,” Brett Gardner said. “Just disappointed in the way things ended.”
Despite the fact they were resilient and overcame many obstacles, it would benefit the Yankees to use this loss as a learning experience. When the 1995 team blew a 2-0 series lead and lost a crushing fifth game to Seattle, the images from that loss stuck with the 1996 team and they used that to fuel their run that season.
The 2017 team needs to remember the images of the Astros celebrating a pennant at their expense. A team on the rise needs to lose before they learn how to win. “There are things we need to get better on,” Girardi said.