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Yankees beat Justin Verlander, Astros to stay alive in ALCS

After falling behind 1-0 in the top of the first, New York slugs two home runs in the bottom half of the inning and cuts the series lead to 3-2. Game 6 is tonight in Houston.
The Astros’ George Springer signals foul, but the delirious crowd in the rightfield stands at Yankee Stadium knows better as the ball hit by Aaron Hicks caroms off the foul pole for a three-run homer in the first inning of Game 5 of the AL Championship Series on Friday, Oct. 18, 2019. [FRANK FRANKLIN II | AP]
Published Oct. 19

NEW YORK — DJ LeMahieu drove Justin Verlander’s second pitch over the wall, then Aaron Hicks sent the fans at Yankee Stadium into a frenzy with a three-run homer off the foul pole later in the first inning. And 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 New York Yankees played like a 103-win team. James Paxton chilled Houston’s bats and the bullpen followed with shutdown relief to beat the Astros 4-1 Friday night, cutting their 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 are expected to go all-bullpen 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.

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 2 1/3 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 leftfield scoreboard with a runner on.

“When it first left the bat: ‘Oh, no!’” Boone said he remembered thinking to himself.

After Tommy Kahnle allowed George Springer’s one-out single in 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 2011 AL MVP and Cy Young Award winner. Verlander 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.

“Fastball command wasn’t very good, and the slider was just hanging,” Verlander said.

Verlander retired 10 in a row after Hicks’ homer and wound up allowing five hits in seven innings with nine strikeouts and no walks.

A night after the Yankees made four errors in one of their messier games of the season during an 8-3 loss, Paxton fell behind after 14 pitches. Springer reached on an infield hit, took second on Gary Sanchez’s passed ball, advanced on a groundout and scored when Paxton bounced a breaking ball off Sanchez’s glove for a wild pitch.

“A lot of nerves,” Paxton said. “I was just overthrowing a little bit early.”

New York came out swinging against the 36-year-old Verlander, who had been 4-0 with a 1.85 ERA against the Yankees in seven postseason starts.

LeMahieu fouled off a pitch, then drove a fastball 355 feet to right-center for New York’s first leadoff homer since Derek Jeter in the 2009 ALCS against the Angels.

“LeMahieu took a couple big swings, hits the homer and woke up the building,” Astros manager AJ Hinch said.

Aaron Judge singled and Gleyber Torres doubled. Verlander struck out Giancarlo Stanton, who went 0-for-3 without two strikeouts after missing three games with a strained right quadriceps.

Hicks, sidelined for more than two months by a right elbow injury that made him wonder whether he would need Tommy John surgery, made a surprise return for the ALCS and re-entered the starting lineup for Game 3. He fell behind 0-2, took three straight balls, then sent a chest-high slider down the rightfield line. He dropped his bat, turned and watched the ball, took a half-dozen slow steps toward first base and started jogging after it clanked off the pole for his first home run since July 24.

“It curved a lot more than I thought it would,” he said.

New York had never hit a pair of first-inning homers in 404 previous postseason games. Verlander could only crouch on the infield grass as Hicks circled the bases.

Hicks ended a stretch of 15 straight hitless at-bats for the Yankees with runners in scoring position. New York has relied on the long ball, scoring 12 of its 17 runs against the Astros on seven homers.

FIRSTS ... AND THAT’S IT

This was the 1,609th postseason game in major-league history, and it was the first in which both teams scored in the first inning and neither scored in the rest of the game

SO LONG, CC

CC Sabathia dislocated his left shoulder while pitching in Game 4 and was replaced on the Yankees’ active roster by RHP Ben Heller. That ended the 19-season career of the 39-year-old left-hander, who is retiring. He was given a large ovation when shown on the video board in the sixth and waved to fans from the dugout.

UP NEXT

Neither team announced a Game 6 starter. Rookie RHP José Urquidy is Houston’s most likely option, and New York could go with RHP Chad Green as an opener or start LHP J.A. Happ. New York would start RHP Luis Severino in a Game 7.

ALSO IN THIS SECTION

  1. FILE - In this July 24, 2019, file photo, Houston Astros starting pitcher Justin Verlander throws to an Oakland Athletics batter during a baseball game in Houston. Verlander has been awarded his second AL Cy Young Award. MICHAEL WYKE  |  AP
    The Mets’ Jacob deGrom wins the NL award for the second straight year.
  2. Tampa Bay Rays manager Kevin Cash talks with reporters in the dugout the day after clinching a playoff spot. DIRK SHADD  |  Times
    Former Ray Rocco Baldelli wins top honors after his first season with the Twins, Aaron Boone was second.
  3. Erik Neander, Tampa Bay Rays senior vice president of baseball operations and general manager, addresses the media during a press conference at Tropicana Field Friday, Oct. 11, 2019 in St. Petersburg. DIRK SHADD  |  Tampa Bay Times
    Award came from a vote of team executives; Yankees Cashman was second.
  4. Flanked by his mother, Michelle Alonso, left, father Peter Alonso (blue shirt, standing), girlfriend Haley Walsh, right, and friends, New York Mets rookie first baseman Pete Alonso, 24, reacts as he finds out he has won the National League Rookie of the Year award on Monday at his home in Tampa.  Alonso, a Plant High graduate, made a grand entrance to the big leagues, hitting a major-league rookie and team-record 53 home runs for the Mets. DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD  |  Tampa Bay Times
    The easiest part of the day for the travel-weary first baseman may have been receiving the prestigious award.
  5. Tampa Bay Rays manager Kevin Cash speaks at a news conference before an Oct. 1 American League wild-card game practice in Oakland, Calif. JEFF CHIU  |  AP
    Marc Topkin: The Twins Rocco Baldelli and Yankees Aaron Boone are the other two finalists for the hard-to-define award.
  6. Tampa Bay Rays second baseman Brandon Lowe (8) is showered with sunflower seeds after hitting a solo homer in the fourth inning against the Houston Astros in Game 3 of the American League Division Series Monday, Oct. 7, 2019 in St. Petersburg. DIRK SHADD  |  Times
    Former Plant High and Florida star Pete Alonso a favorite for NL Rookie of the Year, to be announced Monday
  7. Erik Neander, Tampa Bay Rays senior vice president of baseball operations and general manager, says of the general manager meetings, which start this week, "We’d love to find a way to score a lot more runs without sacrificing run prevention.'' DIRK SHADD  |  Tampa Bay Times
    Rays Tales: Erik Neander says 2019 success provides “a stronger starting point” than they have had in a while. Plus, rumblings.
  8. Manager Kevin Cash has led the Rays to back-to-back seasons of 90 or more victories. He finished third in the American League Manager of the Year voting in 2018 and is one of three finalists again this year with the winner being announced on Tuesday. DIRK SHADD  |  Times
    John Romano: His profile is as low as Tampa Bay’s payroll, but AL Manager of the Year candidate Kevin Cash consistently gets the most out of the Rays.
  9. ALLIE GOULDING   |   Times
Tampa Bay Rays bench coach Matt Quatraro (33) talks to umpire Bruce Dreckman at the bottom of the fourth inning against Texas Rangers on Sunday, June 30, 2019 at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg. 
 ALLIE GOULDING  |  Tampa Bay Times
    The other finalists, per a report, are Astros bench coach Joe Espada and former Phillies manager Gabe Kapler.
  10. Tampa Bay Rays manager Kevin Cash (16) pumps his fist while walking onto the field just prior to taking on the Houston Astros for Game 3 of the American League Division Series in St. Petersburg. DIRK SHADD  |  Times
    Charlie Morton is in the top 3 for the Cy Young Award and Brandon Lowe for Rookie of the Year honors as well.
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