(Editor’s note: It’s rivalry week here at SB Nation. Here’s my offering.)
The Greatest Team in the History of Baseball
The most storied franchise in baseball. Unparalleled really. The winner of 27 World Series Championships. Perhaps the greatest sports franchise in all the world.
You know who I’m talkin about.
Whenever I do a brainstorm of the most beloved characters in the history of baseball, my mind can only conjure Yankees: Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, (the luckiest man alive), Joe DiMaggio, Yogi Berra, Mickey Mantle, Derek Jeter.
(OK, Jackie Robinson and Willie Mays come to mind too and they weren’t Yankees but you get the point)
The Bronx Bombers. Since 1920, 100 seasons ago, they are the only team with a positive wRC+ over the course of those 100 years, 107. The next highest are the Red Sox at 98. That means that because the Yankees were so far above average, (100 being average) their performance made every other teams’ batting performance below average. They are first all-time in home runs, runs, RBI, OPS, WAR.
Enough. They are the greatest. Period.
No wonder their fans are so arrogant and entitled.
Who These Guys?
Do you remember when the Astros were moved to the American League? If you were like me, you resisted that move, and one thought that probably crossed your mind was, “if the Astros are so bad competing in the NL, what chance do they have of winning an AL title against competition like the Yankees.”
It was rough sledding the first two years. But do you remember the surprise 2015 Astros, emerging ahead of schedule. They made the Wild Card playoff, and in their first AL playoff game they beat...the Yankees.
Who da thunk.
Lowly Dallas Keuchel, ascending from deep within the bowels of the once bereft Astros farm system, out-pitched Yankee ace Masahiro Tanaka, a typical Yankee high priced free agent. Carlos Gomez even did a thing. A rib injury forced him to cut back his swing, so, of course, he hit a home run. Behind six Keuchel shutout innings, the Astros sent A-Rod and the Yankees scurrying back home to their mother, 3-0.
See highlights below.
Of course, 2016 was a year of regression for the Astros, and it was also one of only four years since 1994 in which the Yankees failed to make the playoffs. But we all know the miracle of 2017. The Astros were champions of the World. And who did they beat for the honor of competing against the NL champion Dodgers? The Yankees of course.
Bitter Yankee fans say the Astros cheated. But in games one and two in Houston the Astros only scored two runs in each game. However, the Yanks could only score one each, getting shut down again by Dallas Keuchel and by the newest Astro, Justin Verlander, whose nine-inning, one run, 13 strikeout performance stands as one of the greatest playoff pitching performances in History.
Give the Yankees credit for home dominance in this series, outscoring the Astros 19-5 in Yankee stadium while winning all three games there.
But the Yanks submitted meekly back in Houston, losing Game Six 7-1 and Game Seven 4-0. In their four games in Houston the Yankees scored only three runs.
Charlie Freakin Morton got the Game 7 win, and Lance McCullers baffled the “Bombers” with 24 consecutive, unhittable curves for the save. “Here it is sucka. Hit it if you can.”
It was a magical series. Who could forget Marwin Gonzalez throwing out Greg Bird at home from left field to preserve the Game 1 single digit win? Or Jose Altuve scoring on the Carlos Correa double in the ninth inning of Game 2 when catcher Gary Sanchez couldn’t handle the relay throw from second? Or Alex Bregman’s all-time great assist to home to rob the Yankees of a crucial and seemingly automatic run in Game 7?
The Astros went on to win the World Series. The Yankees went on to whine.
Where have you gone Joe DiMaggio?
See highlights below
The year 2018 belonged to the Red Sox, but at least it was the Astros, and not the Yankees, that competed with the Sox in the ALCS for the AL championship.
In 2019 it was the Astros and Yankees again pitted for the AL pennant.
As in 2017 the Astros had home field advantage, but squandered it in Game 1 as Masahiro Tanaka and the Yankee bullpen shut down and shut out the Astros while the Yankees bats touched Zack Greinke for three runs and the bullpen for four more.
In Game 2 it looked like the Yankees had a great chance to put the Astros in a deep 0-2 hole going back to New York. At the end of regulation, the score was tied 2-2, and neither team had scored since the fifth inning.
And then it was over. In the bottom of the 11th, Carlos Correa hit a monster oppo-taco, walk-off homer against former Astro J. A. Happ to send the series back to New York tied 1-1.
In Game three the Astros finally got to showcase their playoff ace, Gerrit Cole, a game they won easily 4-1.
The Astros gave themselves a commanding 3-1 series lead by taking Game 4 by a score of 8-3, mostly on the strength of George Springer and Carlos Correa three run homers.
In Game 5 Justin Verlander continued his post-season slump, allowing all four runs in the Yankees’ 4-1 win. This gave the Yankees hope, for they knew Game 6 would be an “opener” game against the Astros’ bullpen, and if they won, they would at least have a chance to win it all against Gerrit Cole at Minute Maid in Game 7.
There was no Game 7.
Yuli Gurriel gave the Astros a huge 3-0 lead with a homer in the first. The Astros would take a 4-2 lead into the ninth until closer Roberto Osuna allowed DJ LeMahieu and the Yankees to tie the score with a two-run bomb.
Damn. Nothing worth having comes easy, right?
But in the bottom of the ninth Jose Altuve added to his legend with this:
Jose Altuve didn’t just walk-off a playoff game with this huge homer, he walked off the AL pennant.
Here was the look in the Yankees dugout after yet another playoff elimination to the Astros, their third in five years.
Here’s the highlights.
Of course the Jomboys and New York media would say it was all just cheating. I mean, how else could Jose Altuve hit a home run on a slow, straight, slider hanging right in his sweet spot? And they’d never deign to admit that lowly upstarts like the Astros could even exist in the same pantheon as the gods from Gotham.
Considering their injuries in 2019 it is remarkable just how well the Yankees performed in the regular season. But in the playoffs they were close to full strength, and they succumbed to the Astros yet again, excuses their only solace.
Since 2015, the Astros have Dominated the Yankees.
Since 2015, the overall Astros record against the Yankees is 26-22. Since joining the American League the record is...27-27. In the playoffs the Astros are 9-5 against the Yankees.
Since joining the AL in 2013 the Astros have won two AL pennants and a World Series. Since 2010 the Yankees have not added a single championship pennant to their otherwise crowded stadium walls. That is in no small part due to the dominance of the Astros over the Legends.
And the dominance of Jose Altuve. In 2017 his ALCS OPS was .974 with two home runs. In 2019 he was even better, 1.097, again with two homers, including the series walk-off.
I doubt that the 2020’s will be so kind to the Astros, or so harsh on the Yankees. But as much as Yankees fans would loath to admit it, since 2015 the Yankees have been the Astros’ bitches.
As it turned out, when the Astros joined the American League, it wasn’t the Astros who should have feared the Yankees. It was the Yankees who should have feared the Astros.
And someday, when baseball fans brainstorm the most beloved players in baseball history, the name of Jose Altuve might just intrude on that list now so dominated by the Boys from the Bronx.