HOUSTON — With a chance to win the season series against the Yankees, Astros manager Dusty Baker handled Thursday afternoon’s doubleheader opener at Minute Maid Park as if it were a a win-win match 7 in October.
Baker, oblivious to the availability of his pitchers in Game 2, exhausted his top four relief pitchers after starter Cristian Javier’s five innings and nearly emptied his bench in the ninth inning. The urgency paid off when JJ Matijevic scored Alex Bregman from third base with a field single in the bottom of the ninth for a 3-2 win over the Yankees.
“We were trying to chase a team and really wanted to win that first game, and that put us in a position where if we got tied, we won the tiebreaker,” Baker said. “We really didn’t want to take that in the second game. We went through our bullpen in Game 1 and that’s why it was important for us to win it because I don’t know if those guys are available or not for Game 2, the back of our bullpen.
The Astros won the regular season series against the Yankees, going 4-2 against the Bronx Bombers heading into Game 2 of the twin bill. The Reds, who won two of three games in New York earlier in July, are the only other team to win the season series against the Yankees. Houston moved within 3½ games of New York for the best American League record with its 60th win of the season.
If the teams finish the regular season tied, the Astros would gain home-court advantage for an eventual best-of-seven AL Championship Series showdown. In the 2017 ALCS, the home team won all seven games between the clubs, with the Astros advancing, and Houston homered Jose Altuve in Game 6 of the 2019 ALCS to win the pennant.
“I’m aware of that, but that doesn’t change the fact that we’re going to try to win this game and win game night,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said. best team we can be right now and try to win every time we’re there.”
The Astros and Yankees shared four games in June in a terrific series at Yankee Stadium, with the Yankees picking up Final wins. Houston threw a no-hitter combined on June 25, in which Javier started and struck out 13 over seven innings. The Astros defeated the Yankees, 2-1, in a make-out game at Minute Maid Park on June 30.
“Home advantage is good for the playoffs, and playing here in the playoffs and in front of amazing fans goes a long way,” Matijevic said.
That point isn’t lost on Yankees slugger Giancarlo Stanton.
“Yeah, I mean, it’s definitely important,” he said. “It’s definitely news to see us playing against each other, but at the end of the day we have to stay ahead of them on our pitch and every game is important.”
After Javier struck out three and allowed one run on two hits and four walks in five innings, Houston had a 2-1 lead going into the ninth inning before Isiah Kiner-Falefa got away. tied the game on a two-out RBI single reliever Héctor Neris, who was trying to close the game in place of Ryan Pressly (paternity leave).
The Astros loaded the bases with one out, which became two outs when Chas McCormick struck out. Matijevic came off the bench and made a 1-1 change to the left side of the infield. The pitch broke his bat and wasn’t hit hard, so the Yankees had no chance of catching Matijevic or anyone else.
Bregman scored easily from third base for the Astros’ first win since Yordan Alvarez homered to beat the Royals on July 4. It’s the Astros’ 11th final batting win of the year — the most recent came a week ago, July 14, when Jeremy Peña’s RBI single in the 10th helped defeat the Angels, 3-2.
“It was great, especially after we had opportunities,” Baker said. “The bullpen did a great job. It was an exciting victory for us and the fans and for JJ, I was happy for JJ. Like I said, we had a few opportunities before that. We’ll take it.”