Postseason buzz at Stadium lasts only one game
It has been quite a while — perhaps all year — since Yankee Stadium had the buzz it did in the first inning of the American League Wild Card Game Tuesday night. Such is the sound of postseason baseball in New York, which had been missing from the Bronx the previous two seasons.
Unfortunately for Yankees fans, the postseason would last for only one game. AL Cy Young Award favorite Dallas Keuchel proved too much for the Yankees and pitched the Astros to a 3-0 victory. Keuchel allowed three hits and one walk with seven strikeouts in six innings to extend his scoreless innings streak against the Yankees this season to 22. Three Houston relievers held the Yankees hitless over the final three innings.
Fans in the sellout crowd of 50,113 were loud and demonstrative throughout the top of the first inning as Masahiro Tanaka set down the side in order with two strikeouts. As forceful as Tanaka appeared, many of his pitches were up, which he would need to avoid to remain in command.
The crowd kept up the decibel level in the bottom of the inning as Keuchel fell to 3-ball counts on both Brett Gardner and Chris Young. Gardner went down on a called third strike, but Young walked.
Carlos Beltran, possessor of one of the greatest postseason careers in major league history, grounded out to third base as Young moved into scoring position at second, but Keuchel got Alex Rodriguez looking at a well-placed cutter on the outside corner.
The high fastball hurt Tanaka in the second inning as Colby Rasmus turned on the first pitch for a home run into the right field bleachers. Gardner came to Tanaka’s rescue by hauling in Evan Gattis’ drive at the wall in right-center.
One out later, Tanaka flirted with danger. Luis Valbuena singled to center, and Tanaka then walked the 8- and 9-hole hitters, strikeout machine Chris Carter and .211-hitting Jason Castro. That prompted a visit from pitching coach Larry Rothschild. Tanaka used his splitter to get ahead in the count on Jose Altuve, who ended the threat by grounding into a fielder’s choice.
Danger lurked in the third after George Springer led off with a double to center field. Tanaka got National League Rookie of the Year candidate Carlos Correa on a grounder to third and Rasmus, first-pitch swinging again, on a fly to left. Third baseman Chase Headley made a dazzling, one-handed pickoff of a slow grounder by Gaddis and threw out the designated hitter to squelch the rally.
Tanaka was victimized by another high fastball in the fourth that Carlos Gomez parked off the wall behind the visitors bullpen in left field. He made one of his typical show-boating trots around the bases. Yankees catcher Brian McCann had the good sense not to make an issue of it as he did years ago when he was with the Braves and Gomez with the Brewers. The last thing the Yankees needed was for McCann to get tossed.
Yanks manager Joe Girardi felt five innings was enough for Tanaka and brought in lefthander Justin Wilson, who walked Rasmus to start the sixth but then got Gaddis on a double-play grounder and Gomez on another ground ball.
Keuchel, meanwhile, was mowing down the Yankees with regularity. He retired 10 batters in a row before Didi Gregorius opened the home sixth with a single to right, only the Yankees’ second hit.
Gardner became a strikeout victim for the third time, which called to question Girardi choosing him over Jacoby Ellsbury to play center field in this game. Keuchel got another big out when Young grounded into a forceout.
Astros manager A.J. Hinch came to the mound after a sharply-hit single to center by Beltran. After a brief huddle, Hinch stayed with Keuchel to face Rodriguez, who swung at the first pitch and flied out to center.
That turned out to be the Yankees’ only threat against Houston, which was in the postseason for the first time in 10 years since losing Game 4 of the 2005 World Series to the White Sox. The Astros got a tack-on run in the seventh off Dellin Betances. Pinch runner Jonathan Villar got a key stolen base and scored on a two-out single by Altuve.
It was a rough final stretch for the Yankees, who lost six of the last seven games of the regular season and did not even score in the Wild Card Game. Dreams of a 28th World Series championship will have to wait until 2016.