Let’s deal with the current history because, really, it shouldn’t be ignored: Before Saturday there had never been a no-hitter thrown in the current version of Yankee Stadium. And it had been 2,983 regular-season games since the Yankees were last no-hit.
So here is acknowledging what, especially, Cristian Javier and, for the final two innings, Hector Neris and Ryan Pressly did. It had been 19 years and 14 days since the Yankees had been last no-hit, also by a group of Astros pitchers.
But no-hitters are not that rare these days. The Astros’ 3-0 win Saturday was the fourth this season. A few times more a week, a starter goes deep into the game without allowing a hit. What feels more pertinent in this moment is that the Astros have interrupted the Yankees’ magic carpet ride for a few days and dropped another reminder that the AL championship likely will go through Houston, no matter how many wins the Yankees accumulate this year.
“That’s certainly a fair outlook,” Gerrit Cole said.
Of course, it is a long way from here to there and the fact the Yankees and Astros have the AL’s two best records does not guarantee an invitation to late October.
But these clubs are distancing themselves from others in the league. They are the class. And the Astros own a little place in the Yankees’ psyche. They have eliminated them three times in the postseason since 2015, twice in the ALCS. And if there were any reminders needed that they are deep in talent and fortitude, they have expressed that over the past 48 hours in The Bronx.
The Yankees threw a haymaker Thursday night after getting no-hit from the second through the eighth innings. But then Aaron Hicks hit a three-run homer in the ninth and Aaron Judge singled in the winning run and it was possible to believe that very little could soil, at minimum, the 2022 regular season of the Yankees.
But Houston has now won consecutive games and — as in the opener of this series — it felt like a fall preview. Yankee Stadium was loud and full. The games were close, tense and decided late. The Bronx crowd actually has worked up Red Sox-level animus (perhaps worse) for the Astros, dating to when the 2017 club beat the Yankees in seven ALCS games, won the World Series and subsequently was revealed to have been using an illegal sign-stealing system.
No one absorbs more hatred than Jose Altuve. But at this point we can assume he is not getting signs and not wearing a buzzer, and the boos are counterproductive because they are like spinach for Popeye.
“They’re a good team and you’ve got to play well in pretty much all areas if you’re gonna beat them,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said of Houston.
The Yankees, big picture, are fine. In a defining stretch against top AL contenders: Tampa Bay, Toronto and now Houston, the Yankees have gone 8-4 and the four losses were by a combined seven runs. But the Astros are in an exclusive nine-game window against the two teams with the best records in the majors going into Saturday: the two New York clubs. And they are now 4-1 against the Mets and Yankees.
“The cold truth is we got outpitched and outplayed. So you know, credit to the opponent,” Cole said.
The Astros seem comfortable playing high-level, high-stress, high-meaning games yet again. Which is why some pitches thrown before the game are likely to have as much long-term resonance as those thrown during an actual no-hitter. Lance McCullers Jr. faced hitters in a live batting practice and came out fine as he works back from a strained flexor tendon. You can begin to see the playoff rotation with McCullers, who dominated against the Yankees in 2017, pitching behind Framber Valdez, who was strong Thursday night, and Justin Verlander, who was even better Friday night.
And then there is Javier. The Yankees did not start Isiah Kiner-Falefa, who was 3-for-12 lifetime against the righty. By the time Javier’s seven innings were complete every other member of the Yankees was a combined 1-for-47 in their career against Javier. That is not a typo — 1-for-47.
Cole was superb in seven innings, allowing one run. The Yankees’ defense was again sharp. But in three games against Houston, the Yankees are hitting 11-for-92 (.120). No two teams depend on homers more for their runs than the two AL superpowers. Pitching and homers are how the Yankees have gotten to 52-20 — just one game off the sainted 1998 team’s 114-win pace. But in these three games, the Astros have been better in both phases of the game.
“Obviously, they are a complete team,” Cole said. “We all know that good pitching and defense wins a lot of games in October, obviously, you’re gonna have to have clutch hitting and magical offense as well but there’s just not a lot of weaknesses over there, so they can beat you in a lot of different ways. The same way that we can in a lot of different ways. So certainly that’s a fair assumption [that the clubs are on an October collision course]. But you know, we got to get there first.”
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