Lance McCullers summoned his best effort when it was needed most and the All-Star spun a one-hit shutout for the first six innings. Then the offense, silent for the first five frames, exploded for three runs on a bases-clearing double by Yuli Gurriel. Another insurance run crossed in the seventh.
Altuve: Can't tag Headley in time
(c) Michael Giaglo/Houston Chronicle
But then the Game Four universe spun out of control for Houston and, before you could say "Frankenjudge", the Yankees tallied six and grabbed a 6-4 stunner to tie up the A.L.C.S. at two games each.
All the momentum of a winning weekend in Houston are pretty much gone but the offense finally made a bit of their presence known. Houston still has a pair of aces left which they will lean on heavily over the final three contests before the A.L. Champion is crowned.
Once again, hits and runs were at a premium. Houston had only three and there are some substantial "oh-fers" piling up on both sides. Unfortunately, one of them is no longer Aaron Judge - the freakish rookie who homered in Game Three then started the Yankee comeback with a monster homer off McCullers in the seventh. Later, he added a double that a Yankee fan tried to convert to a home run.
Chris Devenski got lit up quickly and Joe Musgrove, who rescued Devenski in the seventh, proved vulnerable himself in the eighth. Finally, manager A.J. Hinch went to Ken Giles for another two-inning save but the Yankees just kept finding holes in their spacious outfield. Finally, Luke Gregerson saved the Astros from digging a deeper hole thanks to some fine defensive plays around him.
Aroldis Chapman came on in the ninth to strike out a pair and retire Evan Gattis with a high pop up of a 101-mph pitch to end the game.
Yankee second baseman Starlin Castro had a tough day in the field, committing two errors including one that slid right through his legs and the other which allowed Marwin Gonzalez to score the Astros run in the seventh.
The Astros have a final chance to get a road win in this series or face two do-or-die games back in Houston. Dallas Keuchel, the Game One winner (with help from Giles) returns for the crucial Game Five against righthander Masahiro Tanaka who pitched a terrific game himself back in Houston last Friday.
The first pitch should be around 4:08 p.m. Central and the Astros will need to strike early or face that cuisinart of Yankee bullpen arms yet again.
No doubt Justin Verlander will return for Game Six, particularly if the Astros have their backs to the wall, and if a Game Seven is forced, it will be a great mystery to see if the starter might be Collin McHugh, Lance McCullers or maybe the forgotten man, Brad Peacock.
One wonders if Peacock could have held the lead Tuesday night. We'll never know.
Incidentally, the Astros received an extra player to complete the Verlander trade with Detroit last Saturday when they obtained 18-year-old outfield prospect Juan Ramirez from the Gulf Coast League. Although Ramirez has hit over .300 in his short minor league career, he has yet to hit one out at any level.
- Bob Hulsey