5 Games That Defined The Yankees-Astros Playoff Rivalry
For the third time in six years, the Yankees will face the Houston Astros in the American League Championship Series. For the Astros, this will be their sixth straight trip to the ALCS.
Previous playoff matchups have shaped the intensity between the Bombers and ‘Stros. Yankees general manager Brian Cashman even blamed his club’s World Series drought — which hasn’t appeared in the Fall Classic since 2009 — in part on the Astros’ cheating scandal.
Here are five key games that defined this rivalry:
Some would call this match a foreshadowing of the drama to come between these two teams. The Yankees – before the “Baby Bombers” era – hosted a young and hungry Astros team in the Bronx for a knockout game. The two teams had never met in the playoffs before, however, Dallas Keuchel set the tone for an intense playoff rivalry.
The southpaw went for six shutout innings, recording seven strikeouts, closing out a Yankee lineup that included Alex Rodriguez and Carlos Beltran with Masahiro Tanaka against him.
The Astros emerged 3-0 winners at Yankee Stadium and would advance to the ALCS eventually falling to the Kansas City Royals who won the World Series by defeating the Mets.
Welcome to your official nightmare, said Justin Verlander. Not literally, though, but Verlander became an instant key part of this rivalry.
The big story for the Yanks was that they passed on Verlander at the waiver trade deadline because Brian Cashman and Hal Steinbrenner wanted to stay under the luxury tax threshold. Instead, they landed Sonny Gray from Oakland and Verlander went to Houston. The rest is history.
Verlander welcomed the Bombers with open arms by pitching a full game allowing just one run and racking up 13 strikeouts. That sent the series back to the Bronx, with Houston holding a 2-0 lead.
The empire strikes back. After a blowout victory in Game 3, the Yanks found themselves in a less than ideal situation in Game 4.
The Bombers trailed 4-0 in the bottom of the 7th inning. Their chances of making it a series looked dim as Keuchel – who pitched seven shutout innings in Game 1 – was lined up to take the ball in Game 5
Aaron Judge opened with a solo blast down the center and the Yanks fired another on a sack fly from Gary Sanchez to make it 4-2. The Yanks then added four runs in the bottom of the eighth, including Sanchez’s opposite-court brace that nearly brought down Yankee Stadium.
The Bombers fought back and won the game 6-4, tying the series at two games apiece. They would go on to win Game 5, but lose Games 6 and 7. The Astros ended up winning the World Series – the first in franchise history – and should apologize for doing so years later after their cheating scandal was discovered.
The Yanks met the ‘Stros again in the ALCS two years later. This time, the Bombers managed to steal a game from Houston and returned to the Bronx with the series tied at 1-1.
However, there was one big problem in their path: Gerrit Cole.
The right-hander had a career year into his contract season and entered Yankee Stadium determined to prove his worth.
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Cole dominated for seven shutout innings, recording seven strikeouts and likely helped earn the Yankees the $324 million salary months later.
The Astros would win the game 4-1 and take a 2-1 series lead.
Nothing would be the same after this game. The Yankees trailed the series 3-2 and found themselves down two runs in the top of the ninth inning.
With two outs, DJ LeMahieu was an absolute revelation for the Bombers that season. LeMahieu had a game-tying two-run home run while the Yanks were on their final exit. There was just one problem.
They didn’t have the head.
Jose Altuve broke a home run from Aroldis Chapman to fire the Astros to the World Series. While third, Altuve was seen telling his teammates not to rip his shirt off. Ken Rosenthal asked him after the game why he didn’t want his jersey ripped off and Altuve simply said he was shy.
Allegations that Altuve was carrying a buzzer to relay the pitch coming from Chapman arose and eventually the entire 2017 dumpster cheating scandal was uncovered largely on suspicion of that home run.