So-Throw Saves the Opening Day for Yanks in Houston

AP Photo/Kevin M. Cox

The Yankees have had a number or crushing moments in Houston, but not this time.

Juan Soto threw out Mauricio Dubon at the plate as the tying run in the bottom of the ninth and the Yankees held on for an exhilarating 5-4 win over the Astros on Opening Day at Minute Maid Park.

Soto was brought to the Yankees for his offense (1 for 3, RBI, two walks) but maybe he should’ve gotten the save instead of Clay Holmes.

Right off the bat, we kinda talked earlier about that situation,” Aaron Judge said. “You gotta come up throwing, you gotta save the game. Sure enough, right off the bat, it’s going to him. I take a peek over to the third base coach, see if he’s waving him. It was an easy send on his part. Soto came up with it so clean, so easy, a nice one hop. Pretty impressive so I knew no doubt in my mind he [Dubon] was gonna be out. Great play by him.”

Holmes entered the ninth to preserve a one run lead but he was shaky from the start. Dubon singled to right to lead off the inning and after Jose Altuve struck out, Yordan Alvarez reached on an infield single as the Astros appeared to be ready to pull off one of their walk off stunners against the Yankees.

Kyle Tucker came up with two on and one out and singled to right. Dubon tried to score from second but Soto got rid of the ball quickly and made a strong throw home as catcher Jose Trevino made a fantastic play to tag Dubon before he hit the plate.

I knew he [Soto] got a good read on it and was building to get momentum,” Yankee Manager Aaron Boone said.” One thing we noticed working out, this infield’s really quick right now, the ground’s really quick right now. Just a perfect throw, great play by Trevy. He [Soto] it on both sides of the ball today, huge play.”

The play went to a review and when home plate umpire James Hoye announced that Trevino did not block the plate and the call stood, the Yankees were still one out away from the win.

It was a long wait, but what we see on the screen, the big screen, we call it out right away. Great call by the umpire and great tag by Trevi,” Soto said.

It wasn’t an easy play for Trevino who had to make a dive for the out because Dubon made a heckuva slide.

I thought he [Soto] had a good jump on it. I thought he came in, put a good throw in a nice area where I could catch and put a tag on,” Trevino said.

With two out, the dangerous Alex Bregman grounded into a force play at second and the Yankees couldn’t have asked for a better win to begin the season.

It was a frustrating beginning to the game for starter Nestor Cortes and the Yankees as the Astros plated three runs to take a 3-0 after one inning.

Houston loaded the bases with two out and Charles McCormick drove a 3-2 pitch through the middle to score two runs. Catcher Yainer Diaz’ RBI single made it 3-0. Nick Burdi was warming up in the bullpen but Cortes retired Jeremy Pena on a comebacker as he threw 33 pitches in the first inning.

In the top of the second, the Yankees loaded the bases with one out but it seemed like a haunting deja vu from 2023 when Trevino bounced into an inning ending double play.

Jake Meyers led off the second by crushing a pitch from Soto for the first Houston home run of the season and a 4-0 lead but, from there, Cortes settled in and retired 12 of the next 13 hitters to give the Yankees an important five innings.

I remember coming in the second inning and Matt Blake telling me, hey, just hold the rope, we’re gonna get some runs across,” Cortes said. “Then, just focused on myself to give innings, to get as many outs as I can.”

Houston starter Framber Valdez fell behind a lot of hitters and seemed primed to be taken but he kept making big pitches to keep the Yankees off the board.

The Yankees loaded the bags with one out in the fourth, but Valdez got Alex Verdugo to hit into an inning ending double play. It was the third GIDP that the Yankees hit into in the first four innings and it seemed like it was going to one of those frustrating offensive games that plagued them last season.

The Yankees trailed 4-0 after two but they grinded out at bats and finally broke through against Valdez in the fifth.

That’s the kind of offense we want to be. We didn’t really get that big hit today necessarily, but you felt the at bats today,” Boone said. “Those were heavy, laden at bats, kinda wore down Framber, made him work really hard, got him out of there. We were able to put enough on the board and the pen took it from there.”

Trevino walked to lead off the inning. Oswaldo Cabrera reached on an infield single that Pena could not come up with and then Torres walked to load the bases once again with no outs this time.

Soto singled to right to score Trevino with the first run and after Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton struck out, Valdez hit Anthony Rizzo with a pitch to drive in the second run and chase the Astros left hander from the game. It looked worse, but Rizzo got up and appeared to be none the worse for wear.

Right hander Seth Martinez relieved Valdez and couldn’t find the plate as he walked Anthony Volpe on four pitches to force in a run to cut the deficit to 4-3. Martinez got Verdugo on a ground out to first to end the threat, but the Yankees were back in the game.

With one out in the sixth, Cabrera homered off Astros reliever and former Met Rafael Montero to tie the game at four.

Jonathan Loaisiga began the sixth and got the first two outs but Diaz and Pena singled putting two men on but pinch hitter Jon Singleton, who batted for Meyers, hit a comebacker to the mound to end the inning.

The Yankees loaded the bases for a fourth time in the seventh against the Astros former closer Ryan Pressly. Verdugo got behind in the count but hung in long enough to lift a go ahead sacrifice fly to left to score Judge who had led off the inning with a double down the left field line.

There was no panic or fear in this clubhouse and in the dugout,” Judge said. “We went down 3-0, 4-0. The guys just stayed locked in on their approach and what they had to do and we were able to wear down Framber a little bit. He’s one of the best lefty pitchers in the game.”

Soto’s defensive play was not the only web gem of the game. With Altuve on first and one out in the seventh, Tucker hit a line drive towards the gap in left center field that looked like it was going for extra bases, but Verdugo, who can flash the leather, got a great jump on the ball and made a huge grab.

He’s [Verdugo] got some range, he’s a heck of an outfielder,” Judge said. “Especially how tricky that left field is here where you got the boxes coming in, it kinda juts out. He had a great read on it, great jump. That’s one thing I’ve been impressed with him, great jumps on the ball, like he knows exactly where that thing is gonna land.”

That defensive play loomed large when Bregman singled to put two runners on with two out but Loaisiga struck out the always dangerous Jose Abreu to keep Houston off the board.

The Yankees new look and balanced lineup produced quality at bats. 7 of the 9 hitters in the lineup had at least one hit and the Yankees drew nine walks while four of the five runs were driven in by left handed hitters.

The Astros debuted their new closer, lefthander Josh Hader in the ninth. The hard throwing Hader struck out the side, but with Houston trailing at the time, his outing became a moot point.

In past years, this would have turned into a crushing walk off loss of some kind, but, for one game at least, the Yankees showed 2024 is going to be different.

That was a Yankee classic right there,” Judge said. “Juan’s debut, that was pretty special out of him.”

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