HOUSTON (AP) — Another solid postseason outing for Masahiro Tanaka, an impressive two-out hit for Aaron Judge and yet still another loss in the AL Championship Series for the New York Yankees.
New York was stifled again by nemesis Dallas Keuchel, but at least this defeat to the Astros wasn’t a one-and-done playoff game like two years ago.
The Yankees dropped their sixth straight ALCS game, this time 2-1 at Houston in Game 1 on Friday night.
Houston did all of its damage against Tanaka in a four-batter span during the fourth inning, when the Astros got three of their four hits off the Japanese right-hander and scored both of their runs.
New York’s best chance of scoring off Keuchel came with two on and two outs in the fifth when slugging rookie Judge — already with a walk and his 17th playoff strikeout — came back from a 1-2 count and lined a full-count pitch into left field. It was only Judge’s fourth hit in 27 at-bats this postseason.
But Greg Bird, trying to score from second, was out on an incredible throw from left fielder Marwin Gonzalez to Brian McCann, the catcher who was with the Yankees two years ago when they lost at home to Keuchel in the 2015 AL wild-card game. The tag was made in a cloud of dust and home plate umpire Chad Fairchild called Bird out on a bang-bang play.
At least there will be no second-guessing Joe Girardi this time. The Yankees manager did ask for a replay challenge, though Bird was still out after the review confirmed the call.
Keuchel struck out 10 while allowing four singles in his seven innings, improving to 6-2 with a 1.06 ERA in eight career starts against the Yankees when counting the postseason.
Bird did score in the ninth with his third postseason homer, pulling a two-out shot down the right-field line off closer Ken Giles.
In Game 2 of the AL Division Series against Cleveland a week ago, when the Yankees were leading by five runs, Girardi opted against asking for a replay challenge of a pivotal hit-by-pitch call prior to a grand slam that trimmed the margin to 8-7 in the sixth inning. Cleveland won 9-8 in 13 innings, putting New York down 2-0 in that best-of-five series.
The Yankees were swept in their previous ALCS by Detroit in 2012. Their last championship series victory came in Game 5 against Texas in 2010 before the Rangers clinched the AL pennant in the next game.
Luis Severino, the 23-year-old right-hander who went seven innings for his first postseason victory in Game 4 of the ALDS last Monday, starts the second game against the Astros on Saturday.
Tanaka was solid aside from the fourth. Jose Altuve, the 5-foot-6 major league batting leader and front-runner with Judge to be the AL MVP, got the first of his three hits with an infield single under and through Tanaka’s legs with one out. That was also the Astros’ first hit.
After stealing second base, Altuve scored on Carlos Correa’s single to left. A grounder got Correra to second before Yuli Gurriel’s RBI single made it 2-0.
The Astros had only one more baserunner after that off Tanaka, who has never beaten them. He was the loser in that wild-card loss in 2015, and is 0-1 with an 8.38 ERA in three regular-season appearances (two starts) against them.
Tanaka pitched seven scoreless innings in ALDS Game 3 last Sunday when the Yankees were facing elimination before a 1-0 victory. He struck out seven, walked one and gave up three hits in that game.
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