Give me more of this rivalry
The Yankees (currently eight games back in the division and 4 1/2 games out of the second wild card spot) look like long shots to make the playoffs. But every baseball fan should be rooting for them to catch fire in the second half and reach the postseason, because a New York–Houston playoff series would be electric.
This weekend marked the Yankees’ first trip to Houston since the Astros were outed as cheaters, and the visitors came ready to exact revenge. The Astros were shut out in the first two games of the series, including a dominant 129-pitch complete game from Gerrit Cole on Saturday.
The lone run in that 1–0 New York win came on an Aaron Judge homer. As Judge rounded third base, he tugged at his jersey in an apparent reference to José Altuve begging teammates not to pull his jersey off after his ALCS-clinching walk-off homer in 2019.
Altuve’s jersey tug became the subject of outlandish theories after the Astros’ cheating came to light in 2019. While Houston’s trash can scheme was not employed during the 2019 season, rumors began to circulate that Astros players were wearing buzzers under their jerseys that could be used to relay signs and that Altuve didn’t want to have his shirt ripped off and the buzzer exposed. Altuve said he was just trying to hide an unfinished tattoo.
ESPN’s Marly Rivera asked Judge after the game if his gesture was “a little message to the opposing dugout,” and Judge hilariously skirted around the question.
“Whenever they keep the roof closed here, it’s pretty chilly,” Judge said. “So, it’s just to let my team know to button up a little bit.”
The Astros took notice. After Martín Maldonado hit a homer in the third on Sunday, he pulled down his collar as if to say, “Look, no buzzer here.”
“It was a little hot,” Maldonado said after the game. “Trying to get some air inside my shirt.”
Gary Sánchez got some payback in the eighth, though, with a clutch three-run homer that stretched the Yankees’ lead to five. He did the same jersey tug and when he got to the dugout, Rougned Odor was waiting for him with a jacket. You know, because it gets chilly in there.
(Why the Yankees’ equipment staff packed jackets for a trip to Houston in July is a mystery that will have to be explored at a later date.)
But it was Altuve and the Astros who got the last laugh, erupting for six runs in the bottom of the ninth, capped by Altuve’s three-run walk-off homer off Chad Green.
As Altuve approached home plate, Maldonado started motioning for Altuve to ditch the jersey. Then, Maldonado and a few other Astros tore the jersey off of him.
The sight of a shirtless Altuve celebrating a dramatic victory after being the target of so much trash talk was incredible. But these teams won’t play again this season, so fans will just have to hold out hope for a playoff matchup when the stakes will be even higher.
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