It was a return to the bad old days of the 2015 American League wild-card game. Or, really, just about any other time the Yankees have faced Houston’s Dallas Keuchel.
The Yankees solved one longtime tormentor in the American League Division Series when they twice beat up Cleveland’s Corey Kluber, but Game 1 of the American League Championship Series showed they still have work to do against Keuchel.
The bearded Astros left-hander has made a career of stumping Yankees hitters and did so again Friday night, pitching seven shutout innings in a 2-1 Game 1 victory in front of 43,116 fans at Minute Maid Park.
Keuchel, who came in 4-2 with a 1.41 ERA in six career regular-season starts against the Yankees, allowed four hits and a walk and struck out 10, joining Mike Scott and Nolan Ryan as the only pitchers in Astros history to record at least 10 strikeouts in a postseason game.
The Yankees, who got a solid outing from Masahiro Tanaka (two runs and four hits in six innings), got a few chances against Keuchel but stranded five and had a runner, Greg Bird, thrown out at the plate in the fifth to end the inning. They went 1 for 5 with runners in scoring position and stranded seven overall.
Keuchel more than resembled the pitcher who routinely dominates the Yankees, including that 2015 wild-card game at the Stadium, when he outdueled Tanaka by allowing three hits in six innings in a 3-0 victory.
Chris Devenski replaced Keuchel in the eighth, an inning in which the Yankees got the go-ahead run to the plate. Devenski walked Brett Gardner with one out, prompting Astros manager A.J. Hinch to call on closer Ken Giles for a five-out save. With Aaron Judge up, Gardner went to second on a wild pitch.
Judge, who was 1 for 20 with 16 strikeouts in the ALDS but already, had a hit in ALCS Game 1, grounded to third. Gary Sanchez walked to bring up Didi Gregorius, whose two homers off Kluber in ALDS Game 5 led the Yankees to the deciding victory over the Indians.
Giles struck him out swinging at a slider. Giles struck out Starlin Castro and Aaron Hicks to begin
the ninth. Bird homered to right field, but pinch hitter Jacoby Ellsbury, batting for Matt Holliday, struck out on a nasty slider to end it.
The Astros’ initial hit came with one out in the bottom of the fourth when Jose Altuve, who led the American League in hitting (.346) and had a league-best 204 hits, reached on an infield single.
With Carlos Correa at the plate, Altuve stole second. Correa then laced a hanging 2-and-1 slider to left for an RBI single. Marwin Gonzalez’s groundout moved Correa to second and Yuli Gurriel’s ground smash up the middle made it 2-0.
The Yankees nearly cut that deficit in half in the fifth. Bird led off with a single and Altuve booted Holliday’s grounder to second to put runners on first and second with none out. Keuchel got Todd Frazier to fly to center, struck out Gardner on a nasty 2-and-2 slider and got ahead of Judge 1-and-2, but the rookie ripped a full-count slider for a single to left.
Third-base coach Joe Espada sent Bird, never to be confused with the fleet-footed on the bases, and he was nailed at the plate on a perfect throw by Gonzalez to Brian McCann.
In the first, Keuchel struck out Gardner on four pitches but fell behind Judge 3-and-0 before walking him.
Keuchel then struck out Sanchez and retired Gregorius on a grounder to second to end the 16-pitch inning.
Keuchel retired Castro on a grounder to start the second, then struck out Hicks looking and Bird swinging, making it four strikeouts through two.
Gardner got the Yankees’ first hit, slashing a single to left with two outs in the third, but Judge struck out.
The Yankees didn’t score in the fourth but did hit Keuchel hard. After Sanchez struck out looking, Gregorius scalded a grounder on which Altuve made a diving stop for a 4-3 putout. Castro lashed a single to left and Hicks blasted one to dead center, where Springer ran it down at the base of the wall.
Keuchel, who started the sixth at 86 pitches, struck out Sanchez and Gregorius. Correa made a nice pick on Castro’s grounder, with the 6-3 putout ending the 11-pitch inning.
“It just shows you how good of a team we really are,” right fielder Josh Reddick said.
“We can win the big games where we’re up by a lot, or we’re down by a few late, or we’re up by one or two late. It just shows this team has every aspect covered.”
“Tanaka was good again. He was able to confuse us and to control the plate,” Astros centre fielder George Springer said.
“If it wasn’t for Dallas, who knows?”