Bronx, N.Y., June 21, 2019; Yankees 4, Houston 1 — The best news, after four straight days of squeezing games in around far too many raindrops, was that New York area weather made a dramatic reversal midday Friday, and the 41,000 that showed for Friday’s game were treated to an exciting game of baseball in an evening perfect for it. No [enforceable] law says the summer solstice is required to deliver a gorgeous day, but we got one nonetheless.
Smarting, one assumes, from the 10-6 thrashing they took at the hands of the Bombers Thursday, the Astros showed up determined to put up a better fight this time. A team that plays in a dome in Houston, they (and starting pitcher Framber Valdez) struggled during a fourth-inning rainstorm Thursday, though Gary Sanchez had homered for an early lead before one drop fell. Houston did better this night, with righthander Brad Peacock working around a Sanchez double in the first, though in the third Gary would reach him for a two-run homer — all the runs the Yanks would need, as it turned out.
But from a Yankee standpoint, even though James Paxton would get the win, it was more a bullpen revenge show. Stumbling somewhat out of the gate, the Yankees were swept in a three-game series in Houston early, where they dropped at least two of the games due more than anything else to uncharacteristic bullpen failures. But despite a few scary moments, it was the pen that sealed Friday night’s 4-1 victory in the Bronx.
Paxton, who was the loser of one of those three games in Texas, showed grit in earning this win, but his 60/40 strikes/balls ratio wasn’t good enough to do anything resembling dominance; it got him out of the game one batter into the sixth clinging to a 2-1 lead. He kept the visitors off the board despite walking the first two ‘stros in the second (he struck out the next three), and surrendering a leadoff Myles Straw double in the third. Ironically, it was once he retired the first two in the top of the fourth that he surrendered a run on back-to-back doubles to Tyler White and Jake Marisnick.
And he also left his pen a little challenge in the sixth, a frame he started having already thrown 96 pitches, by giving up a Yuli Gurriel double to left. Adam Ottavino took the loss in one of those April games against this team. But he would have earned the win this night in a system subjectively decided not on numbers but individual performance. He came on to keep the tying run off the board by using his mesmerizing slider to coax two called third strikes, even if he did yield a walk in the process. He stuck around to get the first out of the seventh, retiring Alex Bregman on a foul fly to left that Brett Gardner made a stellar play on, running forever toward the line, then sliding across to make the catch.
Tommy Kahnle finished out the seventh, and by the time Zack Britton came on for the eighth, Gleyber Torres had doubled the Yankee score with a two-run jack, plating Gardner, who had doubled before him, with the drive. There is nothing easy in this life, wise words I assure you, as they apply to baseball, and to life in general. Taking the mound in the eighth, Britton utilized his killer sinking fastball to coax a comebacker to the mound, but then managed to bring the tying run to the plate by walking the next two, missing the zone on eight of 10 tosses. Lefty hitting Josh Reddick, who had pinch-hit in the sixth, battled Zack through 10 pitches, when Torres snagged his bouncer toward right, and turned it into a 4-6-3 inning ender.
Aroldis Chapman, who earned the save with seven pitches Thursday, came on to close another, but while walking one and striking out two, he was extended to 24 pitches. We may see how that affects his availability with two more against the ‘stros to go. The team that dismantled the visiting Astros the day before beat them with a few precision strikes Friday. But the bigger story is that, with Astros players in scoring position throughout the last four innings, the Yankee relievers got a level of,