The New York Yankees cut the Houston Astros’ American League Championship Series lead with a big 8-1 win Monday night. The Yankees are in a good spot to tie the series as pitcher Sonny Gray gets the start Tuesday. However, if some things had gone differently, the Yankees could be going for a series sweep rather than evening it at two.
Games 1 and 2 had huge defining moments, and in both cases, the Astros benefitted from the youth of the Yankees.
With two outs and a full count on outfielder Aaron Judge in the top of the fifth, first baseman Greg Bird took his normal lead from second base. Judge fired a single into left field and Bird rounded third to head home. Left fielder Marwin Gonzalez threw a strike to the plate and Bird was tagged out as he slid home.
Yankees manager Joe Girardi said after the game if Bird was a bit faster, he’s safe, and he’s not wrong. But Bird isn’t a bit faster, and he knows it. To compensate for running like you’re towing a trailer, you get a bigger lead and take better angles on the basepaths. Bird did neither. But even if he kept his same lead and took the same wide angle around third base, he would have been safe had he been running once Houston pitcher Dallas Keuchel started his delivery. Two things young ball players are taught (hopefully) once they’re allowed to lead off are: run on a full count with two outs, and you’re scoring from second on a base hit with two outs. Again, Bird did neither. The Astros took Game 1 by a final of 2-1.
Houston walked off in Game 2 as second baseman Jose Altuve came around from first to score in the bottom of the ninth. Astros shortstop Carlos Correa ripped a double to the gap in right, where Judge cut off the ball and got it in to shortstop Didi Gregorius. As Correa popped up from his slide into second, Gregorius threw home over his head. Gregorius’ throw was early, but bounced in front of catcher Gary Sanchez, he was unable to field it cleanly and Altuve slid home across the backside of the plate.
The throw by Gregorius was playable. The issue came with the attempt Sanchez made on it. He was in perfect position in front of the plate, but rather than play with the hop, he leaned forward on the ball to smother it. Had Sanchez gone with the momentum of the ball, he would have gotten the ball after the hop and his body would have been put in a perfect position to tag Altuve, who would have been out by about three steps.
If Bird had scored and Altuve had not, both games likely would have gone into extra innings. There’s no telling what would have happened in the extra frames, but Game 3 showed us that New York has the deeper bullpen. The Yankees could be up 3-0 rather than down 2-1. Se la vie.
Photo by Brigham Berthold