Yankees stave off elimination, force Game 6 in American League Championship Series
NEW YORK — James Paxton was filled with nerves, and so were New York Yankees fans, worried the season was slipping away
Tension only surged when the top of the first featured a little grounder that got away, a passed ball and a run-scoring wild pitch.
Boom! DJ LeMahieu drove Justin Verlander’s second pitch over the wall to tie the score.
Clang! Aaron Hicks hit a three-run homer off the foul pole later in the inning.
Just like that, the Bronx Bombers were back — in the game, and in this matchup of powerhouses.
A day after a brutal loss, and with little margin for more errors, the Yankees played like a 103-win team. Paxton chilled Houston’s bats and the bullpen followed with shutdown relief to beat the Astros 4-1 Friday night, cutting New York’s AL Championship Series deficit to 3-2.
“I wasn’t ready to go home yet,” Paxton said, “so I wanted to go out and give my team everything I had and just battle away.”
Now the teams rush to Texas, where the series resumes Saturday night without a day off. With pitching plans disrupted by a rainout earlier this week, both teams plan all-bullpen efforts in Game 6. But Gerrit Cole, 19-0 since May, looms as the Astros’ starter on Sunday if New York manages to extend the matchup to the seven-game limit.
“We’ve just got to go back home and finish the job,” Houston’s Carlos Correa said.
Paxton, a fishing aficionado born outside Vancouver in Ladner, British Columbia, wore three-quarter-length sleeves on a night with a game-time temperature of 52 degrees. That was the coldest for a Verlander start since last year’s ALCS opener at Boston — he had on long sleeves and half of Houston’s fielders had hoodies or balaclavas.
After lasting just 2⅓ innings in Game 2, Paxton struck out nine in six innings, allowing four hits and four walks. Punching his pitching hand into his glove after big strikeouts, he saved his biggest emotion for his 112th and final pitch. Manager Aaron Boone had just made a trip to the mound, unsure whether he would make a change.
“He just said, ‘Are you ready? Do you have anything more left in the tank?’” Paxton said.
“And I said, ‘Yeah, let’s go. I want this.’”
Robinson Chirinos hit a first-pitch fastball that Brett Gardner caught in front of the left-field scoreboard with a runner on.
“When it first left the bat: ‘Oh, no!’” Boone remembered thinking to himself.
After Tommy Kahnle allowed George Springer’s one-out single in the seventh and walked Jose Altuve, Zack Britton retired Michael Brantley and Alex Bregman. Britton struck out two in a perfect eighth, and Aroldis Chapman finished with a 1-2-3 ninth for the save.
Paxton outpitched Verlander, an eight-time All-Star and former AL MVP and Cy Young winner, on a night when each team had five hits.
Verlander opened with a JV first inning — not Justin vintage, but junior varsity. He allowed a pair of first-inning homers for the first time in 28 postseason starts and gave up four runs in an inning for the first time since Houston acquired him from Detroit in August 2017.