Yankees miss chance to take over 1st place in AL East

It was feast or famine for the Yankees during their four-game series at Houston’s Minute Maid Park against the American League West-leading Astros. The Yankees came back from being shut out Thursday night to post a late-inning, come-from-behind victory Friday night behind the native Texans duo of Nathan Eovaldi and Chris Young. The Yanks out-slugged Houston Saturday night in a home run derby of the major leagues’ power leaders only to manage a meager two hits Sunday in failing to fortify Michael Pineda’s route-going effort.

Sunday’s loss turned the series into a split and cost the Yankees a chance to take over first place in the AL East because Tampa Bay also lost. There is quite a logjam in this division. Only one game separates four teams with the Orioles tied for second with the Yankees and the Blue Jays a half-game behind both of them. Only the Red Sox, eight games out of first place, seem buried at this point.

The good news Sunday was Pineda, who recovered from a God-awful game last week at home against the lowly Phillies when he could not get through the fourth inning and was hammered for eight runs and 11 hits. The righthander bounced back with eight strong innings Sunday in which he gave up three runs – one of them decidedly tainted – and seven hits with no walks (always a good sign with him) and eight strikeouts.

Unfortunately, Astros starter Collin McHugh was slightly better. He hurt himself with a wild pitch in the third inning that led directly to a run on a single by Brett Gardner, whose adventures in the outfield the next inning allowed the Astros to tie the score. Gardner and left fielder Garrett Jones had miscommunication on a fly ball to left-center field by Carlos Correa that fell between them. Gardner inadvertently kicked the ball as well with Correa rounding the bases. The official scorer ruled a double for Correa and a two-base error for Garnder.

A couple of years ago, I took a friend of mine who is a Mets fan to a game at Citi Field on a day the Yankees were out of town and not scheduled. The Mets’ starting pitcher that day, making his major-league debut, was Collin McHugh. Seated behind us were about a dozen of his friends and relatives from Georgia, and what a treat they got. McHugh pitched a two-hit shutout over seven innings before coming out of the game. The Mets did not score for him, however, and eventually lost the game, 1-0, to the Rockies.

McHugh never pitched that well for the Mets again and he was traded to Colorado for infielder Eric Young Jr. The Rockies eventually placed him on waivers from where the Astros scooped him up. He was 11-9 with a 2.73 ERA last year for an Astros team that lost 92 games and with Sunday’s victory improved to 9-3 albeit with a 4.51 ERA this year. Some pitchers take a while to develop.

Gardner’s single and one by Alex Rodriguez in the sixth was all the offense the Yankees could muster against McHugh, who was in position to win when the Astros broke the tie on a triple by Evan Gattis in the seventh and got a tack-on run in the eighth on a sacrifice fly by Jason Castro.

Just the night before, the Yankees had been in a home run derby contest against Houston. A first-inning grand slam by Brian McCann and a second-inning, two-run shot by Chris Young created a 6-0 lead for Masahiro Tanaka, who like Pineda had been coming off a poor outing (five innings, 10 hits, seven runs-five earned) in a 12-4 loss to the Tigers at Yankee Stadium.

Unlike Pineda, Tanaka did not rebound. The six-run bulge was gone by the fifth inning as he was touched for home runs by Correa, Chris Carter and Jose Altuve. The Japanese righthander looked shell-shocked when he left the game after five. His teammates rebounded for him. Mark Teixeira thrust the Yankees back in front with a two-run double in the eighth. Chase Headley led off the ninth with a monster of a drive to left-center off lefthander Tony Sipp to complete the comeback behind nifty relief work by winning pitcher Chasen Shreve (5-1), Justin Wilson and Dellin Betances (sixth save).

A third straight comeback was not in the cards for the Yankees Sunday.

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