This time, it was Masahiro Tanaka who was untouchable on the mound. And when the New York Yankees sent Houston ace Dallas Keuchel to an early exit, their rollicking crowd let loose with a cathartic roar that must have boomed all over the Bronx.
“New York is no joke,” Keuchel said afterward. One more big win, and these Yankees are World Series-bound.
Tanaka pitched seven innings of three-hit ball and New York finally solved a longtime nemesis at just the right moment, beating Keuchel and the Astros 5-0 on Wednesday for a 3-2 lead in the AL Championship Series.
“What a performance,” Yankees third baseman Todd Frazier said about Tanaka. “Just gutsy.”
Gary Sanchez hit an RBI single off Keuchel and later homered to help the wild-card Yankees win for the third straight day at home, moving them within one victory of their first pennant since 2009 and record 41st overall.
The teams head back to Houston for Game 6 on Friday night, when Justin Verlander and the reeling Astros will try to regain their footing following an off day and force a decisive Game 7. Luis Severino is scheduled to start for New York.
To take the series, the Yankees knew they needed to win at least one game started by Keuchel or Verlander, both Cy Young Award winners. Now they’ve done that — and they don’t want to let Houston back up.
“Don’t wake that sleeping dog. So we’ve got to just keep on rolling,” Frazier said. “They’re going to be ready to go. We know that.”
Houston arrived up two games to none and appeared to be closing in on its second World Series appearance. But the Astros, like defending AL champion Cleveland before them, have been unable to put away these poised Yankees, who improved to 6-0 at home this postseason in front of their cheering, chanting fans.
New York has won 19 of its past 22 games at Yankee Stadium.
“It’s been unbelievable. I haven’t seen anything like it in Major League Baseball,” veteran Chase Headley said. “Reminds me of college football games. They’re going crazy the entire game. It’s a huge advantage for us.”
Aaron Judge, Greg Bird and Didi Gregorius also delivered big hits as New York chased Keuchel in the fifth and handed him his first postseason loss.
Keuchel had been Yankees kryptonite, entering 6-2 with a 1.09 ERA in eight career starts against New York — including a pair of scoreless outings in playoff wins.
Both of those came at the expense of Tanaka, who lost 3-0 to Keuchel in the 2015 AL wild-card game at Yankee Stadium and 2-1 in Game 1 of this series. The ace lefty with the long, bushy beard entered 4-0 with a 1.69 ERA and 31 strikeouts in 26 2/3 postseason innings overall.
But this night belonged to Tanaka and the Baby Bombers.
Raise your hand if you predicted New York would be headed to Game 6 with a 3-2 lead after falling down 2-0? Honestly, I thought Houston would cruise into the World Series, but man I was fooled. It seems like this young Yankees team is showing the world they’re not just a young, fun team, but one that could win it all. With Justin Verlander on the mound for Game 6, I’m thinking the Astros will force a Game 7.