Last night’s game should have been thrilling. The two best teams in the American League playing in one of the highest-stakes games of the season. A win for the Astros meant the Yankees would be in a difficult 0–2 hole; a win for the Yankees would’ve tied the series, 1–1, and shifted the momentum heading into tomorrow night’s Game 3, the first of three straight games at Yankee Stadium, the headquarters for the Northeast chapter of the Houston Haters Club of America. In reality, Game 2 of the ALCS was a story of just-misses for New York in its 3–2 loss.
The game was scoreless in the third inning when New York righthander Luis Severino made his only two mistakes of the game. He plunked catcher Martín Maldonado, whose .209 career batting average is the lowest mark for any nonpitcher over the last 50 years (minimum 1,000 games). A few batters later, with two on and two outs, Severino tried to go up-and-in with a 97.4-mph heater to Alex Bregman. It wasn’t a bad pitch, but it also wasn’t up or in enough. An inch or two higher and Bregman would’ve gotten under it; just a bit more inside and Severino would’ve jammed Bregman. Either of these likely would’ve resulted in an inning-ending popout. Instead, Bregman quickly fired his hands, careful to keep them inside the ball as he made contact, and sent the pitch into the Crawford Boxes. 3–0 Astros.
The Yankees mounted their only serious threat in the fourth, when Aaron Judge singled to left and Astros lefthander Framber Valdez stumbled as he fielded an easy double-play chopper from Giancarlo Stanton, and then compounded the blunder by throwing the ball into right field for a two-base error. Both Judge and Stanton scored, on an Anthony Rizzo groundout and a Gleyber Torres infield single, and that was all the runs for the rest of the game.
No player last night better exemplified these near misses than Judge. In the first inning, he got a 2–0 thigh-high sinker over the middle of the plate and smoked it 111.7 mph to center field; Chas McCormick raced back and made the catch 389 feet away. On replay, it looked like Judge made contact slightly off the sweet spot more toward the end of the bat, and with the retractable roof open at Minute Maid Park and the wind blowing, those few hundredths of an inch on the barrel could’ve made all the difference.
Later, with Harrison Bader on first and one out in the eighth, Judge barreled up a fly ball to deep right, where a leaping Kyle Tucker caught it with his back against the wall. According to Statcast, it would have been a go-ahead, two-run homer in one ballpark: Yankee Stadium. In Houston, it might’ve gone out if the roof had been closed. As Maxwell Smart would say, “Missed it by that much.”
“I think the roof open kind of killed us,” manager Aaron Boone said after the game. “I think Judgy’s [is] a homer all the time.”
Let’s not kid ourselves, though. No matter what Boone said, the Yankees didn’t lose the game because the roof was open. They didn’t lose because Severino missed his location on two inside pitches in the third inning. They didn’t lose because of any of the other just misses in the game: a bad strike call on a 3–0 pitch that should’ve been ball four to Stanton in the eighth, a plate appearance that resulted in an inning-ending strikeout; an unfortunate ricochet off a diving Bregman’s glove to shortstop Jeremy Peña on Gleyber Torres’s hard-hit groundout to end the sixth; a failed attempt by Matt Carpenter to check his swing with two outs, two strikes and the tying run on first base.
No, the Yankees lost last night to fall behind 2–0 in the series because, right now, the Astros are the better team. Not by much but by just enough.
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1. THE OPENER
“The Phillies heard the jokes at the beginning of the year. They read the critiques, and they saw the replays, and they looked up the statistics. But they didn’t need any of that to confirm what they already knew: Their infield defense was dreadful.”
That’s how Emma Baccellieri begins her column about Philadelphia’s infield defense, a group that was laughably bad at the beginning of the year but has since become much better. Her story reveals how the Phillies shifted their season by, well, not shifting as much, and by focusing on not worrying about making the spectacular plays. The story also offers an interesting look at how different philosophies can work for some teams more than others.
Remember, last year, Emma wrote a story about how the Braves improved their defense when they adopted the shift overnight. The Phillies took the opposite approach because there is no one-size-fits-all approach in baseball.
How the Phillies’ Woeful Defense Started Making the Routine Plays by Emma Baccellieri
This is the story of how Philadelphia addressed its horrendous fielding and turned around its season.
Let’s get you caught up on some of our other recent stories.
Yankees Slip Into a Power Struggle for the Ages in ALCS by Stephanie Apstein
Down 2–0 to Houston, New York will count on Gerrit Cole to make up for its shortcomings at the plate.
The Padres Strike Back to Set Stage for Epic Postseason Series by Matt Martell
San Diego showed in NLCS Game 2 that it isn’t going down so easily.
Juan Soto Issued a Warning Shot. The Phillies Better Beware. by Tom Verducci
The hitting prodigy has yet to find his groove with the Padres. But in Game 2 of the NLCS, he showed signs that he could carry San Diego to the World Series.
Inside Austin Nola’s Long Journey to Face His Brother in the NLCS by Emma Baccellieri
The Padres catcher and Phillies ace matched up with Game 2—and family bragging rights—on the line.
And in nonplayoff news …
Rangers Hire Former Giants Manager Bruce Bochy to Lead Club by Daniel Chavkin
3. WORTH NOTING from Stephanie Apstein
There was a lot of talk Thursday about whether playing with the roof open affected Game 2 of the ALCS, especially after Alex Bregman did not get all of a ball and still hit it out in the third, and then Aaron Judge did get all of one and made a loud out in the eighth. The Astros said they didn’t think the wind had much to do with it. The Yankees disagreed. “Bregman hit it 91 mph, that’s all I’m going to say,” said New York starter Luis Severino. “And Judge hit it at 106—and it didn’t go out. So, I don’t know. They got lucky.” In any event, the series resumes Saturday at Yankee Stadium, where the wind is almost always a factor.
4. W2W4 from Nick Selbe
The NLCS shifts to Philadelphia after the Padres and Phillies split a pair at Petco Park. On the one hand, San Diego has a decided pitching advantage in this one. Joe Musgrove, who was among the league’s best starters this season, has allowed just two runs and seven hits across his two playoff starts. Phillies lefthander Ranger Suárez has been effective but rarely pitches deep into games, which could force Rob Thomson to turn to his bullpen early just two days after five relievers combined to get the final 10 outs Wednesday.
On the other hand … the thought of going up against a Friday-night Philadelphia crowd at Citizens Bank Park sounds incredibly intimidating. Musgrove proved more than capable of handling himself in a hostile environment on a big stage in Game 3 of the wild-card round against the Mets, and this will be a similarly daunting task. In his lone meeting against the Phillies this season, Musgrove gave up six earned runs in six innings with just one strikeout, allowing home runs to Kyle Schwarber and J.T. Realmuto.
5. THE CLOSER from Emma Baccellieri
Call it the Paradox of the Astros: They’ve won all five of their postseason games so far by extremely slim margins—never by more than two runs!—yet their performance has felt so dominant. Not once in any of those close games did I ever really think they might lose. (O.K., maybe somewhere around the fifth hour of their marathon, clinching ALDS game against the Mariners. But only then!) So many of these games were very much within reach for their opponents. Yet the Astros do a phenomenal job of making it feel like the opposite.
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