After a crisp and brisk-by-2017-playoff standards (three hours and 20 minutes) Game 1, a 2-1 Astros win, Houston now has a 1-0 lead on the Yankees in the ALCS. Game 2 comes at 4 p.m. ET on Saturday; here are a few quick thoughts before the quick turnaround:
Kid Keuchel was in control: Is it just me, or did circa-1991 Tom Glavine take the hill Friday night for Houston? Lefty Dallas Keuchel, who whiffed 10 Yankees in seven innings of shutout ball, had every pitch working, in and around the strike zone. He is not a prolific strike-thrower generally and wasn’t in Game 1 (67 strikes on 109 pitches), but the command of his pitches was otherworldly. When he missed the zone, he missed narrowly and with purpose.
On his first pass through the order (four strikeouts, four groundouts, one walk), he relied primarily on his cutter and sinker. Afterward he mixed in a slider that largely confounded the Yankees’ hitters. The only hit he allowed on the slider was a fifth-inning single to left from Aaron Judge; Greg Bird was thrown out trying to score from second, ending the inning and the Yankees’ best chance at scoring. He finished with only four hits allowed, and it seemed like he could have continued to confound New York all night had his pitch count allowed for it.
Including the postseason, Keuchel now has a 6-2 career record against the Yankees with just seven earned runs allowed in 57 2/3 innings. (That includes 13 scoreless innings across two playoff starts.) That’s a 1.09 ERA. Not bad for a former seventh-round pick who didn’t have an above-average season till age 26.
Another good night for Tanaka: It’s worth recalling that MasahiroTanaka did not have a good year for the Yankees. His ERA was more than a run higher than it had been in any of his three prior seasons, and he allowed 35 homers, nearly two per nine innings. It’s also worth recalling that had MasahiroTanaka pitched like 2017 MasahiroTanaka in Game 3 against the Indians, the Yankees would be golfing right now. Instead he threw seven shutout innings, and New York salvaged the series.
Tanaka was sharp again Friday night, allowing only four hits (all singles) and a walk in his six innings. He was something of a victim of unfortunate sequencing, as three of those hits and a stolen base came in the fifth, resulting in the only two runs Houston scored. Having Good Tanaka puts the Yankees in a strong position, even if he lost this one.
Then again, he struck out only three Astros. One of the major questions prior to this series was whether the Yankees’ swing-and-miss staff would be able to whiff Houston’s contact hitters—the Astros' bat-to-ball skills have the lead so far. (In his defense, Tanaka didn’t appear to have any confidence in his splitter, his go-to swing-and-miss pitch. He normally throws it a quarter of the time; he threw it hardly at all Friday night.)
It’s beginning to look a lot like baseball: After nearly two weeks of largely awkward, reliever-dominated postseason play—culminating in Thursday night’s ragged 14-pitcher, four-and-a-half-hour 9-8 NLDS closer between Chicago and Washington—what a relief it was to see a plain old baseball game. There was stellar starting pitching (Keuchel a little stronger than Tanaka), runs that came together from the stringing together of hits, a play at the plate… this sport ain’t half-bad!
Better not get used to this, though. A.J. Hinch’s willingness to ask closer Ken Giles for a five-out save in Game 1—and his apparent lack of trust in setup man Chris Devenski, who was pulled after walking just one man—means we may be in for a series of bullpen hot-potato, at least on Houston’s side.