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The Yankees fought off elimination with a 4-1 win over the Astros in Game 5 of the ALCS. >> Box Score
Five things to know from Friday's game
1) In what amounted to a moment of truth for James Paxton in his first season with the Yankees, the lefty delivered the type of start Brian Cashman envisioned when he traded for him last November.
In fact, the Yankees GM was just hoping to have the injury-prone Paxton healthy come October, seeing him as a No. 1 starter, but the Big Maple had been spotty in his two postseason spots, his command so shaky in Game 2 against the Astros that Aaron Boone pulled him in the third inning of a 1-0 game.
But on this night, Paxton delivered dominance, giving up one run over six innings while racking up nine strikeouts. As his confidence grew he attacked the dangerous Astros' hitters, pitching so well that Boone let him face the lineup a third time, bucking the analytic game-plan.
With two outs and a runner on in the sixth, Boone went to the mound, seemingly to take out Paxton. Instead he wanted to hear the pitcher tell him he was still strong, with 111 pitches under his belt, and wound up leaving him in.
One more time Paxton went in with his fastball to a right-handed hitter, and he just barely got it in far enough, as Robinson Chirinos flied to the warning track in left, while the crowd held its breath until the ball was caught.
2) Obviously Aaron Hicks had the game-changing hit, with his three-run home run in the first inning, but it was the quality of the at-bat that stood out as the reason Boone has been willing to throw him into the middle of the lineup the last couple of games, even though missed the last two months of the season.
Hicks fell behind in the count 0-2 to Justin Verlander, taking a curve ball for a strike and chasing a slider. Then he laid off two shoulder-high fastballs, as Verlander tried to get him to chase, and took a curve ball high to get the count to 3-2.
At this point he'd seen all of Verlander's pitches, and when the right-hander left a slider up, Hicks pounced on it, pulling it off the foul-pole in right for the home run that set off pandemonium at Yankee Stadium.
3) Unsung hero of the night was Zack Britton, who came on with runners on first and second in the seventh inning, and one out, and proceeded to get five straight outs, the last two on strikeouts, to get the ball to Aroldis Chapman for the ninth.
The lefty has been rock-solid this postseason, giving up one run in seven innings, and in this LCS he has yet to give up a hit while pitching 4.2 innings in three appearances. The question now is how far Boone can push him as the Yankees will have to bullpen their way through Game 6.
4) The way things were going for the Yankees' offense, Boone had to take a shot with Giancarlo Stanton, putting him back in the lineup after missing three games with a quad strain. But he didn't have to bat him fourth.
A hard-throwing righthander like Verlander, with his elite stuff, was a bad matchup for Stanton and it played out that way, as the Yankees' slugger went 0-for-3, struck out twice, once chasing a slider and once chasing a chest-high fastball, and grounded out routinely to short.
Now the question is whether Boone will go back to Edwin Encarnacion in Game 6. It's the only option, as Stanton is not going to be in left field still favoring that quad strain. He'll probably give Stanton another shot, as Encarnacion is 1-for-15 in this series with eight K's.
5) Questions about the Yankee offense linger, after they ambushed Verlander for four runs in the first inning, but managed only one hit the rest of the way. It doesn't bode well for beating Gerrit Cole, if this series comes to that.
For now, however, they cleared a huge hurdle by beating Verlander, now putting the Astros in a position where they'll have to go to a fourth starter for the first time in this postseason, likely Jose Urquidy.