Andy Martino, SNY.tv | Twitter |
HOUSTON -- Dellin Betances tore his Achilles in September. Domingo German is on the restricted list because of a domestic violence allegation. On this night, the Yankees missed both of those pitchers (and, of course, the baseball impact of German's situation is insignificant compared to what his alleged victim experienced).
Jonathan Loaisiaga appeared overwhelmed and unable to find the strike zone. Betances would have inspired much more confidence in that spot, or at least lengthened the bullpen by having another high-leverage guy and not ever needing Loaisiga. The left-handed and homer-prone J.A. Happ in the game as the bulk guy in extra innings, was a far less favorable matchup against the Astros' righty-heavy lineup than the righty German would have been.
A reasonable send
D.J. LeMahieu made the last out of the sixth at home plate, squashing a rally and keeping the game tied. He ran home after Brett Gardner knocked a ball off Jose Altuve's glove. In order for LeMahieu to be out, the ball had to carom right to Carlos Correa, and Correa had to make a great throw. Both of those things happened. It was an aggressive send by third-base coach Phil Nevin, but one that could easily have worked out for the Yanks.
"I thought it skipped off further, and I was an absolute send from where I was standing," said manager Aaron Boone. "I'm right behind third base there. Great heads up play by Correa, to be in that position, to catch it clean, and then obviously with his arm to throw a strike home. So I had no issue with the play at all."
Added LeMahieu: "He just made a great play on it. It was probably the right call."
You had one job
Boone replaced Chad Green with Adam Ottavino in the fifth inning for one reason: Ottavino's slider is a powerful weapon against righthanded hitters. Ottavino's first pitch to righty George Springer was a hanging slider. Springer bashed to left center for a game-tying home run.
This, incidentally, is the downside of the bullpenning strategy. Matchups that work on paper still require the pitchers to execute in real life -- and each time the manager calls for a new reliever, he is taking a risk that the pitcher won't have it on that particular day. Green was cruising, but Springer hits high-velocity fastballs -- Green's specialty -- extremely well. The game plan clearly called for Ottavino in that spot, but reality played out differently.
Later in the same inning, Tommy Kahnle did succeed in the exact lane that the Yankees save him for, throwing his changeup to left-handed hitters. With two on and two outs, Boone summoned Kahnle for lefty Yordan Alvarez, who struck out swinging on an 0-2 change-up.
Punish the mistake
When Aaron Judge stepped in against Justin Verlander in the fifth inning, Verlander had not yet allowed a hit. The walk to LeMahieu that preceded Judge's at-bat was the Yankees' first baserunner.
In other words, Verlander had not made many mistakes to that point. The key to beating a pitcher like Verlander, who has a high-90s fastball and a plus-plus slider is to make sure you don't miss the few mistakes that he makes in a game.
When Verlander delivered a hanging slider with an 0-1 count, Judge did what he had to do: punished it. The pitch caught too much plate, and Judge didn't miss his chance.
In preparing to cover this series, I asked a bunch of baseball folks how to beat Verlander and Gerrit Cole, whose arsenal is similar and even a tick better. One former big league hitter noted that in losing to Tampa Bay in the division series, Verlander had thrown enough "cement mixers," or bad sliders to render himself beatable. "If you watched Verlander's last start against the Rays, he was throwing cement mixers [that's slang for a bad slider] that teams were recognizing," the former player said."The flat sliders that just hang. Gotta pray for those."
The same sentiment, by the way, applies to the challenge that the Yankees on Tuesday in Cole: Pray for a flat slider or two.
Paxton's fastball issues
James Paxton appeared to struggle a bit with fastball command. Three of the four hits against him came against fastballs that caught too much of the strike zone. He also walked Alvarez on all fastballs. The only hit against Paxton's breaking ball Correa's run-scoring double in the second.
Afterward, Paxton confirmed that he was struggling a bit with his command.
"It wasn't great," he said. "I felt like [the hits off the fastball] were pretty good pitches. Not perfect, but pretty good."
Problem was, against the Astros, a pitcher does have to be nearly perfect in hitting his spots. Paxton's fastball command was just a tick off in the strike zone, and that was enough for Houston's dynamic offense.
Surprised by the early hook on Paxton? Then you haven't been watching Boone managing this month. This is what the Yankees do, in order to maximize their strengths.
"You're playing it to win the game," Boone said. "You're not playing it to -- what if we go 13, you know? You're playing it to what gives us the best chance to win here. And the bottom line is we end up giving up a third run in the 11th inning. I'd say from a run prevention standpoint it went pretty well."
Green entered in the third inning to face Alex Bregman with two one and one out. Bregman sent a fly ball to left, which Cameron Maybin caught easily -- likely because he was positioned perfectly toward left-center.
The Yankees, like the Astros, use data to be extremely precise with their shifting and positioning, and in this case it prevented what might have been a two-run double.
In a lower-stakes situation in the fourth, Robinson Chirinos hit a line drive to left with two on and two out, and Maybin didn't even have to move in order to snag it.