Astros beat lifeless Yankees in Game 3, one win away from World Series


NEW YORK — The matchup the New York Yankees — or at least their fans — wanted turned into an overgame.

A Yankees season defined by sublime numbers — 99 wins, 62 home runs, a record 18th trip to the American League Championship Series — is just nine innings away from a quiet defeat at the hands of their tormentors.

And as the Houston Astros walk away from a championship won in part by illicit means while continuing to dominate the AL, it’s getting harder and harder for even the most angry fan to turn them down.

The Astros have been perfect this postseason, and in Game 3 of this Saturday’s ALCS, they took advantage of the weaknesses of their very imperfect opponent to post a 5-0 victory at Yankee Stadium that gave them a 3-0 series lead .

They moved to within a win of back-to-back World Series appearances and their fourth in six seasons thanks to a familiar winning formula.

Precision pitching, this time from Cristian Javier, who the Astros have largely hidden for the moment, silenced a Yankees lineup that has batted .161 this postseason and scored just four runs in three ALCS games . On Saturday, they managed just three shots.

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Opportunistic hitting from a deep lineup, this time a two-run homer off hitter no. 9 Chas McCormick, after a drop-out fly ball by Yankees center fielder Harrison Bader, walked Javier for more runs than he would need. A two-run single from hitler no. 8 Christian Vazquez – a catcher making his first ALCS start – completed a three-run sixth inning rally.

And the attention to detail throughout — Vazquez’s perfect catch and release to catch Bader on a steal attempt in the fifth inning, Yuli Gurriel tagging out from first on a fly to left, allowing him to score on Vazquez’s single — were part of a clinical nine-inning dissection.

The Astros are now 6-0 this postseason. On Sunday, they’ll send seasoned playoff shortstop Lance McCullers Jr. to the mound to nail down another pennant.

And in a way, it’s a fitting choice. Five years ago, McCullers pulled off one of the most impressive postseason saves in baseball history, pitching four innings of one-hit relief to defeat the Yankees 4-0 in Game 7 of the 2017 ALCS, starting this pennant streak and propelling the Astros to a World Series that they would win in seven games.

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But the illegal sign stealing that occurred throughout that season and unfolded in 2019 cast a shadow over that title and stuck with the Astros throughout their dominance since then. Yankee Stadium, in particular, has been especially tough, with the home crowd feeling like their boys were cheated out of the ’17 pennant, and the Astros have caught endless heartache here the past two years.

However, it’s been such an ugly postseason for the Yankees that they forgot to boo Jose Altuve in the second inning.

They were simply too shocked.

Moments earlier, Bader retired 6-7 right fielder Aaron Judge on Vazquez’s easy two-out shot to right — and Bader struck out. Ace Gerrit Cole should go through another beating.

And McCormick would make the Yankees pay for the transgression, gluing a 98 mph fastball the opposite way and over the 314 mark in right field, the short porch that is often the Yankees’ friend in their downfall.

It was 2-0 Astros and it felt like 20-0.

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Cole? He was as good as usual, meaning he hit a painful home run, but he would also have worked a four-hit shutout in the sixth if not for Bader’s error. Instead, two hits and a walk to start the sixth ended it, and reliever Lou Trivino gave up all the inherited runners on Trey Mancini’s sacrifice fly and Vazquez’s single.

Javier, meanwhile, showed little sign of inaction. He has pitched just six times since Sept. 7, a 46-day stretch that included just 1 ⅓ innings in the AL Division Series sweep of the Seattle Mariners. If the Astros stashed him in this very spot, consider it a wise move.

Javier didn’t allow an outfield ball until Giancarlo Stanton’s double in the fourth — the Yankees’ only hit until the ninth, as it turned out. As usual, he relied heavily on his fastball, though after the 62-homer hitter Judge fouled off three straight warm-ups in the fourth, Javier simply went for a slider and got Judge to soar gently on the field.

When he exited in the sixth, Yankee Stadium was quiet. They will open it once more on Sunday – perhaps just to crown an enemy.


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