Game 5 ALCS Perspectives (Yankees Win 4-1)
Ahhh, baseball. Baseball. You got to love it – and hate it. It gives a fan joy and sadness. It provides euphoria and it rips our hearts out.
Twenty four hours ago all seemed lost. There was only a sliver of hope. But, hope there was – and hope there is.
Seeing the Yankees reach the World Series still seems somewhat impossible, but hope remains. Hope is alive.
Baseball, got to love it.
Due to a social commitment last night, I did not see much of the game. I watched the first inning and a half and then the last few innings. In a sense, I saw all the action. In addition, without seeing the game “live,” I was able to keep somewhat informed as my son Ethan sent me frequent text messages with game updates.
I was glad that Aaron Boone finally started reading this blog and listening to my advice. It seems he did a few things last night that I’ve been advocating. (Yes, I am quite certain that the reason these things happened was because Aaron Boone reads this blog.) (*I am kidding.) The main point here is I am very glad that the top of the lineup consisted of D.J. LeMahieu, Aaron Judge, and Gleyber Torres in that order. Those three batters basically won the game for the Yankees (with a bit of help from Aaron Hicks) in the bottom of the first inning. I’ll get to that in a moment though…
This game was the big chance for Giancarlo Stanton (finally back in the lineup) and James Paxton (starting a “must win” game) to “earn” their pinstripes. I was eager to see how they would do in their biggest moments of the season, and possibly their careers.
James Paxton’s first inning started shaping up like a disaster. Without going through the play-by-play, it was ugly. His location was bad, balls were hard hit, there was a hit and a walk, a wild pitch, and a passed ball. The game began with a bad feeling. Things didn’t just look bad – the Yankees were imploding right in front of our eyes. I felt that with Justin Verlander pitching, if the Astros could get a quick lead, they’d ride that lead all the way to the World Series. Because of the less-than-stellar first inning, the Astros got that lead. They drew first blood and scored the game’s first run. All was looking lost…
But, in the back of my mind, I wondered, as Paxton and the Yankees escaped with only one run allowed, if the tables might have turned, just a little, on the Astros. They had their chance to blow the game open early, the Yankees were on the ropes, and they missed it just as the Yankees had missed their big opportunity in the first inning the previous night.
The bottom of the first inning demonstrated, clearly, why the Yankees big three bats need to hit in succession. D.J. LeMahieu hit a huge homer to begin the bottom of the first. Aaron Judge followed with a single. Gleyber Torres then doubled him to third. After Giancarlo Stanton struck out, Aaron Hicks blasted a three-run homer off the foul pole. That quickly it was 4-1 Yankees and a ray of sunshine and hope warmed my spirits.
Aaron Hicks deserves a great deal of credit for his home run. That was the game winning blast – even though it came in the first inning. I was not pleased to see him batting third on Thursday. That seemed like a move of desperation. Batting fifth even seemed like it might be pushing it a bit, but Hicks proved why Aaron Boone has faith in him. It was a huge hit. That blast allowed the Yankees to live another day.
I am more than happy to be proven wrong by ever Yankees player who outperform any of my negative predictions. Keep it up Hicks! Keep proving me wrong!
Around a walk and a single, James Paxton struck out the side in the second. It was extremely important that he didn’t let the Astros back into the game at that point – right after the Yankees scored. And he didn’t.
All told, Paxton pitched six innings. He allowed four hits and four walks, but he struck out nine batters. He pitched big all night. This is exactly what the Yankees needed from him. And he delivered. He threw 112 pitches (thank you Mr. Boone for leaving your starter in the game and not feeling like you need to use every single relief pitcher) and gave the Yankees exactly what they needed. Paxton allowed but one lone run, and that was in the first inning. That was as big of a performance from any Yankees pitcher in a long time. James Paxton deserves a ton of credit. The Yankees needed him to be great – and he was.
Justin Verlander pitched a heck of a game himself. He threw 105 pitches over seven innings. After the first inning, he allowed only two hits. He’s tough. He’s great. In this big spot (bigger for the Yankees since they could not afford to lose), though, James Paxton out pitched him.
Remember in Rocky IV when Rocky proved that Ivan Drago could get hurt? That’s what the first inning against Verlander felt like. The Yankees remembered that they could score runs – against any pitcher. The task for the Yankees going forward is that they need to do this again tomorrow and then again on Sunday. They have dug themselves a mighty deep hole. But there is hope now. Sometimes all you need is hope.
Aaron Boone’s bullpen management was spot on. He used only three relief pitchers. Chad Green got the day off. Aroldis Chapman was brought in to close it out.
The Yankees will need their big relievers, Chad Green, Tommy Kahnle, Zack Britton, and Chapman to be ready to pitch again tonight.
Giancarlo Stanton didn’t come up big (0-for 3 with two strikeouts). I still want him batting fourth tonight. I would keep the lineup exactly the same. I know a lot of people are down on Gio Urshela, but his glove is too valuable to take out of the game. The hits can come from other places. Defense wins big games like this. If the Yankees are not scoring, the big reason will not be Gio Urshela.
If the Yankees win tonight, it sets up an “anything can happen” Game Seven. If I was managing the Yankees, I would start J.A. Happ tonight. Using Luis Severino on short rest would be very tempting, VERY TEMPTING, but he did throw 97 pitches on Tuesday. Since Houston will also be digging deeper into their pitching depth, it makes sense to hold off Severino. As for J.A. Happ, the Yankees should ride him arm as long as he can go before turning (again) to their big relievers. Happ is the best chance the Yankees have to go (somewhat) deep into the game.
The Astros are saving Gerrit Cole for a possible Game 7 if it gets that far. I understand that approach, but this also does give the Yankees more of a chance. If I was Houston, I’d seriously consider using Cole to just close this thing out. No one wants to play a Game 7 after failing to eliminate their opponent in Games 5 and 6.
Maybe the Yankees can score a bunch of runs early to take all the pressure off their own pitchers. A blow-out would be so nice tonight. Like in the days of yore, lets hope the Yankees score a ton of runs in the first inning and then slowly put the game away. Paxton earned his pinstripes last night. Tonight should be Giancarlo Stanton’s turn. (I’m not asking for much, just a home run or two early in the game.)
Let’s Go Yankees!