Astros’ strikeout machine jolts D-Rob

There is no other way to look at it — Monday’s loss was a bad one. Not that any loss is ever good, but some are just worse than others. And the 7-4 setback to an Astros team fighting to stay out of last place in the American League West was as plug ugly as it gets.

Coming off two sound victories at St. Petersburg, Fla., the Yanks were poised for a promising homestand against the Astros and White Sox, two fourth-place clubs playing out the string and trying to avoid finishing at the bottom of their respective divisions. So to lose the first game in such horrible fashion was not the ideal way to get the homestand started.

Houston batters combined to strike out 15 times yet the Astros ended up winning the seesaw contest. The Yankees squandered a 2-0 lead and then came back from a 4-2 deficit to tie the score in the sixth inning. Questionable base running cost them in the eighth, but the real ugliness lay ahead and from a very surprising source.

David Robertson is amid a stretch of 21 consecutive saves, a streak that remains intact despite what happened Monday night when he gave up the three-run home run in the ninth to swing-and-miss specialist Chris Carter that created the final score.

D-Rob got himself in trouble even before Carter stepped to the plate by walking Robbie Grossman and Jose Altuve with one out. Grossman had stolen second base during the Altuve at bat when catcher Brian McCann’s throw struck the runner in the back.

Carter is about as feast or famine a hitter as there is in the major leagues these days. He had struck out in each of his first four at-bats that ran his season total to 133 strikeouts in 386 at-bats. The platinum sombrero — a fifth strikeout — could have been easily anticipated until Robertson fell behind 3-0 in the count, which is probably not a count Carter has seen much this year. As one of the writers sitting near me said, “He probably hasn’t seen many 3-ball counts of any kind.”

The last thing a pitcher wants to do there is throw a get-it-over meatball, not to a hitter of Carter’s power when he makes contact. Oh, man, did he ever make contact on the 90-mph cut fastball that Robertson delivered. The ball landed somewhere half-way up the bleachers in left-center for Carter’s 30th home run, a crushing blow.

The Yankees’ offense had shown some signs of life for a change. Brian McCann slugged his 14th home run in the fourth to put the Yanks up 2-0. Martin Prado, who scored on McCann’s homer, had three hits, including a two-run double in the sixth that knotted the score. In all, the Yankees had nine hits.

One was a leadoff single in the eighth by Jacoby Ellsbury, who ended up at third base with one out after a steal and an errant throw by catcher Jason Castro. The Astros brought the infield in against Carlos Beltran, who hit a hard, one-hopper to shortstop Marwin Gonzalez. Running on contact, Ellsbury was a dead duck at the plate as Gonzalez threw a pea to the plate. Prado singled to put another runner in scoring position at second, but McCann flied out to deep center.

To make matters worse, former Yankees pitcher Chad Qualls, now Houston’s closer, earned his 14th save with a perfect ninth to conclude a perfectly unattractive loss.

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