- With Wednesday night’s win, the Yankees are one game away from going to the World Series.
- The Yankees changed their hitting approach against Houston Astros ace Dallas Keuchel, forcing him to pitch in the zone.
- Keuchel had a terrific track record against the Yankees, but he was chased before the fifth inning in Game 5.
The New York Yankees moved to within one game of the World Series with a win over the Astros on Wednesday night — and to do it, they had to get past one of the top pitchers in baseball: Houston Astros ace Dallas Keuchel.
Keuchel posted a 2.90 ERA in just under 150 innings during the regular season, but that wasn’t the only reason the Yankees had to dread facing him. The lefty entered the night with a 1.09 ERA in eight career starts against the Bronx Bombers, an incredible number for that large of a sample size.
To make matters worse for the Yankees, some of Keuchel’s best outings had come during the postseason. He delivered a dominant 10-strikeout performance in Game 1 of the current American League Championship Series, as well as a scoreless start in the AL Wild Card Game in 2015.
But Keuchel saw a different result when he took the mound in Game 5. The Yankees got to their old nemesis quickly, with Starlin Castro hitting a big double in the second inning and Greg Bird bringing him home on the next at bat. A double by Aaron Judge plated another run in the third.
By the time the fifth inning rolled around, Keuchel was gassed. He walked Judge, gave up back-to-back singles, and was pulled from the game, ending the night with four earned runs and seven hits allowed in just under five innings.
It was a shockingly flat performance from Keuchel, who won the 2015 AL Cy Young Award thanks to his wicked slider, but the Yankees didn’t seem surprised with the result. After so many losses against the 29-year-old star, they entered the game with a plan, and it appears to have worked perfectly.
“See the ball in the middle of the plate and react from there,” third baseman Todd Frazier explained, according to Ken Davidoff of the New York Post. “His ball moves so much, if I’m thinking middle of the plate, anything to the left or right most of the time is going to be a ball. That’s how he wins games. He gets guys off their approach and swinging at balls. Today, when we got our strikes, we hit them pretty hard.”
The approach was effective, sending Keuchel back to the dugout just 86 pitches into his start. It didn’t hurt that the Yankees were one of the most patient teams in baseball this year, pacing the AL in walks.
“You’ve got to stay disciplined, but you’ve got to be aggressive,” Bird said of facing Keuchel. “It kind of contradicts each other, but you’ve got to get him on the plate, and when you do, you’ve got to make it hurt.”
The Yankees added another run in the seventh inning to secure the 5-0 win, taking a 3-2 lead in the ALCS. They haven’t been this close to the World Series since 2009, the year of their last title.
It’s been a remarkable ride, especially in light of the preseason projections. The Yankees’ roster looked like a talented but messy group of unproven young guns and washed-up veterans, but they got several breakout performances and shattered expectations en route to a 91-win season.
“Have I ever had more fun? Honestly, no. It’s a lot of fun,” said Bird, who missed much of the season due to injury, according to Peter Botte of the New York Daily News. “Baseball has ups and downs, you go through things, it’s life. Just roll with it. But I appreciate playing, I don’t take it for granted any day.”
While the Yankees need just one more win to advance to the World Series, the Astros need back-to-back victories. Game 6 is set for Friday at 8:08 p.m.