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Dallas Keuchel Dominates Yankees as Astros Advance

The one-game Wild Card Playoff is one of the most unpredictable and potentially unrepresentative games in all of sports, yet it means so much in the baseball world. After stumbling to a 1-6 final week of the regular season, the New York Yankees barely secured home-field advantage in the Wild Card Game. Their opponent, the Houston Astros, won two out of three games in Arizona to end the season and secure the opposing spot. In a do or die game, the Yankees turned to their $155 million man Masahiro Tanaka and the Astros turned to Cy Young candidate Dallas Keuchel. Keuchel had been dominating at home all season, but his road splits were nothing special as he posted a 3.77 ERA. Tanaka’s power arm and put away slider seemed likely to bury the strikeout-prone Astros, who were playing in their first playoff game since 2005 and first since their transition to the American League.

The drama started before the game even began when Yankees Manager Joe Girardi chose to play Chris B. Young in left field over left-handed hitting Jacoby Ellsbury, who posted just a .202 batting average since September 1. Tanaka came out of the game strong as he struck out both Altuve and Springer and got rookie superstar Carlos Correa to fly out to center field. Keuchel’s top of the first was not as smooth as he walked Chris Young and struggled with location early.

Colby Rasmus led off the top of the second with a first pitch moonshot to right field to put the Astros up 1 to 0. The Astros loaded the bases off Tanaka but failed to push another run across as Tanaka got Jose Altuve to ground out to third. Keuchel settled in by the second inning and by the third had accumulated five strikeouts.

The Astros big offseason acquisition, Carlos Gomez, led off the fourth with a home run to left field off Tanaka to push the lead to 2-0. Tanaka got Jason Castro to ground into a double play to end the fourth and set down the side in the fifth before being relieved by Justin Wilson to start the sixth. Keuchel continued his dominance by retiring ten straight batters from the second to the fifth. With two outs in the bottom of the sixth and a runner on, Beltran singled to center field to put runners at first and second for Yankees cleanup hitter Alex Rodriguez. After a coaching visit to the mound, Astros Manager A.J. Hinch decided to stick with Keuchel, which proved to be the good choice as Keuchel retired Rodriguez by getting him to pop up the first pitch to Center Field.

The Astros tacked on another run in the top of the 7th as Jose Altuve knocked a check-swing single into left field to score Jonathan Villar against All-Star Dellin Betances. Tony Sipp relieved Keuchel in the bottom of the inning and after walking Chase Headley with one out, recorded a huge full count strikeout against Greg Bird for the second out and got Robert Refsnyder to fly out to right field for the third. Betances struck out the side in the top of the eighth, but the Yankees had no luck against Houston’s next pitcher, Will Harris, who retired Gregorius, Gardner, and pinch-hitting Ellsbury in order.

Trailing 3-0 in the ninth, the Yankees turned to Andrew Miller to keep the deficit at only three. Miller got the leadoff hitter of the inning, Jed Lowrie, to fly out and struck out Luis Valbuena and Marwin Gonzalez to end the inning. A.J. Hinch turned to the veteran reliever, but first-time closer Luke Gregerson to face Beltran, Rodriguez, and McCann. Gregerson struck out Beltran and Rodriguez and got McCann to ground the first pitch he saw to shortstop Carlos Correa for the final out.

The Yankees certainly overachieved this season, but this game and the latter part of the season exposed their lack of right-handed power hitting and heavy reliance on old veterans like Rodriguez and Teixeira. The Astros showed the rest of the league that it is possible to rebuild a farm rather quickly, as they lost 111 games just two years ago. The Astros will face the Kansas Royals in the next round beginning on Thursday as Collin McHugh takes on Yordano Ventura.

Image Source: Al Bello/Getty Images North America

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Written by Michael Dweck

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