Monday, October 24, 2022

Yankees Swept By Astros, Take Massive Step Back

Aaron Judge approaching first base after Yuri Gurriel (right) and Ryan Pressly celebrate after completing the final out of Game 4. @Astros.


The Houston Astros completed their sweep of the Yankees, with a 6-5 win in Game 4 of the American League Championship Series.

The Yankees had jumped out to an early lead when they got RBI singles from Giancarlo Stanton and Gleyber Torres in the first inning, and tacked on a run in the second when Anthony Rizzo got an RBI double to make it 3-0.

Houston came roaring back in the third when Jeremy Pena - who would be named ALCS Most Valuable Player - launched a three-run blast to left field off Yankees starting pitcher Nestor Cortes to tie it at 3.

Right after the homer, Yankees Manager Aaron Boone and the trainer went to check on Cortes, and he was lifted, as he suffered an apparent groin injury.

Wandy Peralta came on and was greeted by a double from Yordan Alvarez, who then scored on a single from Yuri Gurriel to make it 4-3 Houston.

The Yankees tied it in the fourth when Harrison Bader singled, took second on a passed ball, and scored on a single from Rizzo. Bader then homered in the sixth, his fifth dinger of the playoffs, to make it 5-4 Yankees.

In the seventh, with Jonathan Loaisiga on for the Yankees, Jose Altuve got a one-out single, and then Pena appeared to hit into a double play to second base, but Torres put nothing on his throw, so Altuve and Pena were safe. Alvarez then singled to bring in Altuve and tie it at 5, and that chased Loaisiga.

Clay Holmes came on for the Yankees, and he promptly gave up an RBI single to Alex Bregman to make it 6-5 Houston. The tenor of the game changed immediately once the Astros got the lead.

From that point on, the Yankees put up no fight, as they went nine up, nine down to end it, with Bryan Abreu pitching a perfect seventh, Rafael Montero the eighth, and Ryan Pressly a clean ninth to earn his third save of the series.

The game ended with Aaron Judge grounding back to Pressly to end it, a fitting end for a player who went 1-for-16 and did not have a home run or an RBI in the ALCS.

Yankees Manager Aaron Boone said of the season ending with a sweep, "It's an awful day, just an awful ending. It stings.  It hurts. No one I would rather do it with than those guys in there and how together they are. So you kind of lean on each other in there. But the ending, as I've said before, it's cruel. So much goes into it and trying to climb to that top of the mountain. Unfortunately, we haven't been able to get there yet, and I know it will continue to motivate everyone in there and try and get there. That's what you work for and don't take for granted the opportunity you have sitting in front of you. But the ending is terrible."

When Boone was asked about how close he feels the Yankees are to a title, he said, "Not close enough. They beat us, and we end up second in the American League. We got to keep working to get better. Obviously, we had some key contributors missing that I think would have been difference-makers for us potentially. But then again everyone has to deal with those things on some level. So it's frustrating."

With the sweep, the Yankees have now lost the ALCS three times to Houston in the last six years. They have regressed in the sense, that the 2017 ALCS went seven games, the Yankees took it to six in 2019, and now a sweep. In between, they lost an AL Division Series to the Boston Red Sox in 2018, another ALDS to Tampa Bay in 2020, and the Wild Card Game to Boston last season. 

The biggest questions heading into the offseason is if the Yankees bring back General Manager Brian Cashman - and by extension Boone - and whether they bring back Judge, who turned down a contract extension before the season.

Judge bet on himself, and he responded by setting the American League record with 62 home runs in the regular season, but the playoffs were a familiar story, as he hit a dismal .139 - or to put it even blunter - 5-for-36, with two home runs and three RBI in the playoffs. For his career, he has hit .211 with 13 home runs and 25 RBI in 44 playoff games.

Those stats should really weigh on the minds of the Yankees as they weigh whether to commit record money to a player who has put up incredible numbers in the regular season, but fades away in October.

To compare him to other Yankee outfielders in the last 40 years, he is no Bernie Williams or Paul O'Neill; rather, he's Dave Winfield, who was called Mr. May by George Steinbrenner. And, to really make it clear, he's no Derek Jeter, who came alive in October and certified himself as a winner, which is remembered a hell of a lot more than his 3,465 hits in the regular season.

Boone said of Judge's season, "Incredible. Just an incredible season and someone that I've grown close with and just admire and respect and hopefully we'll see him in pinstripes for a long time. I don't even want to thing about the alternative right now. But he means a lot to us in that room."

This was a Yankees season that began with dreams of them testing the 1998 record of 114 wins as they began with a record that peaked at 61-23 on July 8. The Yankees had a season-high 15 1/2 game lead at that point, which came in handy when the team played hideous baseball for the next two months (22-33), and saw the Tampa Bay Rays pull within 3 1/2 games on September 9.

The Yankees then blew out Tampa Bay the next two days - 10-3 on Sept. 10 and 10-4 on the 11th - to take command and hold on to win the American League East. However, they failed to win 100 games, tapping out at 99, two less than the Mets. 

The Yankees still earned a bye, so they bypassed the Wild Card Series and went right to the Division Series, where they were given a hell of a test by Terry Francona's Cleveland Guardians, who took it the full five games. Yes, the $246 million Yankees taken to the limit by a $68 million team. This was an incredible omen of what was to come against Houston.

Heading into the offseason, the Yankees better not fall into the same trap of thinking, "well, we won the division and won a round in the playoffs" Also, nobody cares about the 30 years of winning records in the regular season when you haven't even been in a World Series in 14 years. Heck, even the Philadelphia Phillies, whom the Yankees beat in their last appearance in 2009, have even made it back to the World Series before them. 

Philadelphia, who won just 87 games in the regular season but are playing their best baseball now, will play Houston in the World Series starting Friday night.

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