The Yankees got the job done in Game 1, shutting out the Astros on their home field to take the first game of the ALCS, 7-0. And they could truly carry all the momentum to the Bronx if they can collect another road victory on Sunday night.
However, they'll have to go through the Astros' ace in Justin Verlander to do so.
Two years ago, Verlander dominated the Yankees at Minute Maid Park in his two ALCS starts. His first was in Game 2, pitching a complete game where he allowed just one run while striking out 13. Then seven scoreless innings game in Game 6 to help force a divisive Game 7 that the Yankees would ultimately lose.
Fast forward to today and Verlander is just as dominate on the bump, if not better (he had a 2.58 ERA this season compared to 3.36 in 2017). But he hasn't been completely untouchable.
Pitching on short rest, the Rays smacked him around in Game 4 of their divisional series. Three runs were plated in the first inning and Willy Adames knocked him out of the game with his solo homer in the fourth inning. Verlander's body language throughout the contest wasn't the same as we're used, with head shakes and deep sighs coming from the veteran.
So how did the Rays do it? It's actually simple: they took advantage of Verlander's mistakes early in the game.
Take Tommy Pham's solo homer to get the Rays on the board for instance. Verlander had a 2-2 count on him and decided to throw him a changeup that caught way too much of the plate. Pham put a great swing on it and trotted around the bases. Then, Travis d'Arnaud waited on a curveball on a 2-1 count and pushed it into left field for an RBI single. And Joey Wendle caught an RBI double on a 2-1 changeup that was down the pipe as well.
The same situation could be said for Adames, with a 2-1 slider -- or spinner as it didn't break one bit -- was right in the heart of the plate. These aren't mistakes Verlander makes often. But he did, and the Rays jumped all over it.
This time around, though, the situation is different for the Yankees. Verlander has his normal amount of rest, and he'll be pitching at his home park where he had a 2.34 ERA over 17 starts. He may have also figured out why his pitches weren't as sharp as they normally have been.
But to knock Verlander off his game, the Yankees will need to capitalize on his mistakes early on. If he gets into a groove, they know all too well how Verlander can cruise in a postseason contest. So getting into hitter's counts -- and staying patient like they were against Zack Greinke on Saturday night -- will be key to get the offensive edge yet again.