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ALCS Game 5 Recap: Astros fail to close out series in Yankee Stadium, 4-1

Houston failed to clinch, with all five runs coming in the first

MLB: ALCS-Houston Astros at New York Yankees Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

The Astros remain a game away from clinching the pennant, dropping Friday night’s game against the Yankees 4-1.

At first, it looked like the Astros might be able to build off of their Game 4 (relative) offensive explosion, or maybe the Yankees would continue their late-game defensive meltdown. George Springer started things off with an infield single that James Paxton failed to glove, then moved around the bases on a passed ball, fielder’s choice, and wild pitch. Michael Brantley walked in there as well, Paxton was building up a big pitch count, and it looked like a big inning could be in the works.

The Yankees escaped without further damage thanks to two line outs, though, then immediately struck back against Justin Verlander. D.J. LeMahieu led off with a homer, followed by an Aaron Judge single and a Gleyber Torres double. Baseball is a game of inches, and in this case, they didn’t break the Astros’ way, as Aaron Hicks fought back from an 0-2 count to hit a 3-run homer that bounced off the right field foul pole. In a stadium with a deeper right field, that ball might have continued hooking foul, but alas, that wasn’t to be.

But it’s just four runs. That’s not great, but Justin Verlander basically settled down after that, going 7.0 innings, allowing five hits, and striking out nine while walking none. After that first, those totals were 6.0 innings/one hit/seven Ks. It’s not ideal, but a team that looked like Murderers’ Row should at least be able to make things interesting, right?

Again, that wasn’t to be. From the second on, the Astros would record four more walks and hits, stranding all of them. A leadoff walk and a two-out single in the second went nowhere, as did a one-out single and walk in the seventh. The Astros stranded at least one runner every inning outside of the ninth. Paxton ended up striking out nine, making this the first ALCS game in history where both starters struck out nine or more, although there was still some good contact going straight to fielders as well. Again, baseball is a game of inches.

It’s unfortunate Houston could close things out tonight, but there are still positives. Tomorrow is a bullpen day for both teams, and Houston has seen more of New York’s pen than vice versa; even today, the only other pitcher to throw for Houston was Brad Peacock, who totaled eight pitches, while the Yankees used three different relievers. If things go seven, that could be rough given the four-games-in-four-days stretch. And of course, the next two games are in Houston, and Gerrit Cole will be starting one of them.

But Game 5 still feels like a big missed opportunity. Game 6 is tomorrow at 7 PM Central time. No word yet on who will be starting for either side.