Tuesday, May 7, 2024

Yankees Continue To Avenge Astros' Dominance


Yankees starting pitcher Luis Gil firing one in to Alex Bregman in the third inning. Photo by Jason Schott.

On Tuesday night, the Yankees hosted their biggest nemesis of the last decade, the Houston Astros in a meeting had a distinctly different vibe. 

These two teams met in Houston to open the season, and the Yankees set the tone with a four-game sweep, and that feeling carried over into the records they brought into this meeting: the Yankees at 23-13, while the Astros were 12-22.

That’s right, Houston was in a tie for fourth place in the American League West with the Los Angeles Angeles (no surprise they have that record), and the only team in the A.L. with a worse record is the Chicago White Sox, at 8-27, (doubly no surprise).

Could this be the end of the Astros dynasty, after they have won two World Series, four American League pennants, and been in every ALCS since 2017? Or, is it far too early to think that, especially since six teams make the playoffs? Tantalizing thoughts considering they’re not exactly beloved champions.

Yankees Manager Aaron Boone was asked, in his pregame press conference on Tuesday afternoon, was asked if the Astros’ start has surprised him, and he said, “Yeah, I mean, you don’t expect to see them in the standings where they are, but it’s baseball, too, and it’s a stretch, so you still realize and expect them to get it going at some point; hopefully, you know, we can push that off a few days.

“They have all the players, the talent, and the guys that have been through the grind, and have been kind of the standard over the last several years, so I expect them to turn it around and get rolling. They’re going to get more and more guys back, you know, within their starting rotation, and that’s going to help stabilize them.

“You know, they’ve had, even through their great stretches, you know, they’ve had stretches where they’ve had, three week stretches, where they haven’t played really well. It’s just obviously magnified when you do it at the start of the season, and it’s probably a longer stretch than certainly they’ve been used to, but you know, I know a lot of the guys that they have over there that are built to get through this. I’m sure at some point, we’ll see them flying high.”

One sign of Houston getting back to normal is who they had on the mound Tuesday night: Justin Verlander.

The Houston ace, who missed the start of the season, made his season debut on April 19 when the Astros were in Washington. In three starts going into Tuesday night, the 41-year-old had just a 2.08 ERA (earned run average) and was 1-0 on the season.

Justin Verlander pitching to Aaron Judge in the third inning Tuesday night. Photo by Jason Schott.

Boone said what’s most impressive about Verlander is, “Probably the sustained excellence, with kind of, to see how he evolved, you know, whatever was coming from Detroit to Houston, how he kind of, you know, evolved his arsenal a little bit, changed a little bit the way he attacks. You know, that’s a lot of times what defines greatness, and guys that end up having Hall of Fame careers. Usually, you’ve got to make adjustments along the way; he’s been able to do that, you know, still at whatever age he is, you know, it’s still amazing stuff. You know, he’s not been a guy that has had to do it with less stuff. His entire career he’s had great stuff, although it’s evolved and changed a little bit the way he uses it. The fact that he still physically is impressive as he is, is very impressive.”

Houston got on the board first in this one, as Kyle Tucker crushed one into the second deck off Yankees starter Luis Gil. That would basically be the high point of their night.

It was obvious from the first pitch of the game that Verlander might not have it in this one, as Anthony Volpe took him to the warning track in right field, with Jake Meyers tracking it down on a dead run.

Juan Soto then singled, Aaron Judge walked, and Alex Verdugo delivered the big blow, a three-run shot to right-center field that made it 3-1 Yankees. It was the Yankees' left fielder's fifth home run of the season.

Alex Verdugo beginning his stroll around the bases after seeing his hit clear the fence. Photo by Jason Schott.

After Verlander retired the Yankees in order in the second, they went right back to work in the third, as Soto led off with another single, Judge drew another walk, and Verdugo laced a single to bring in Soto to give him four RBI on the night. 

Then, in the fourth, Jose Trevino led off with a single, and with one out, Volpe finished what he started, as he put one into the right field seats for a two-run shot to open up a 6-1 Yankees' lead. It was the Yankees shortstop's fourth dinger of the season.

Anthony Volpe running between second and third base on his home run. Photo by Jason Schott.

Anthony Volpe at the plate while Verlander strolls behind the mound. Photo by Jason Schott. 

Then, to top off the rout of the Astros' ace, Giancarlo Stanton led off the fifth with one of his patented line drive home runs, his seventh of the season to make it 7-1.

Verlander retired the next three Yankees to finish off the fifth and end his night. His final line was very uncharacteristic for him: 5 innings, 8 hits, 7 runs (all earned), 3 walks, 2 strikeouts, and his ERA leaped from 2.08 to 4.43.

Gil, the Yankees' starter, had the complete opposite night, as that Tucker home run was the only hit and run he allowed in six innings, as he scattered four walks and struck out five to improve to 3-1, with a 2.92 ERA. Boone said of Gil, "He keeps on growing, and he's got a really high ceiling."

The Yankees went on to win 10-1, and Boone said of the performance of their offense, "Definitely some guys are getting it going as a whole. Look, I think we're capable of this, look obviously, you're not gonna run out offensive nights like this every night, especially against a guy like Justin, but they are capable of that. You know, they've got balance, they all - you know, it does seem a couple of guys are getting it rolling a little bit, and some guys that have been carrying us a lot of the way are still rolling. So, we just kind of stay humble and, you know, turn the page and get ready, and try and put out a good offensive performance tomorrow night."

Boone was then asked about how he couldn't have expected an outing like that from Verlander, and he said, "I mean, look, anything can happen, it's baseball, you know, I mean, it's, every game is different and unique, and you always see things you don't necessarily expect to see, so you prepare as best you can, and you always shoot to have these kind of offensive nights, but you prepare to put yourself in a position to be successful, and when you have the track record that a lot of those guys have, anything is possible."

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