Justin Verlander dominates in wild 2-1 finish over Yankees, Astros take 2-0 lead in ALCS

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Lights-out pitching took center stage again on Saturday as the Astros skated by on a 2-1 finish over the Yankees to take a 2-0 lead in the Championship Series. Luis Severino dealt four innings of one-run, zero-strikeout ball before making a premature exit on a comebacker to his left wrist, while Justin Verlander capped his first postseason complete game and 10th win with five hits, a run and 13 strikeouts.

The bats were mostly quiet through the first three innings. Jose Altuve hit a first-pitch single in the first inning, followed by a walk from Carlos Correa, but Severino squashed the Astros’ RISP with an inning-ending groundout. Starlin Castro eked out a single in the second inning, but was also left stranded, and no real threat surfaced until Brett Gardner tried to stretch a two-out double into a triple and was thrown out at third base in the third.

Things picked up around the fourth inning, when Correa drove a 1-2 fastball to right field for a solo home run. The ball barely cleared the top of the fence as a young Astros’ fan extended his mitt into fair territory to catch the ball, but replay review confirmed the home run to give the Astros a 1-0 lead. Severino hung on for the remaining two outs, retiring Marwin Gonzalez on a pop-up and inducing a ground out from Yuli Gurriel, but was struck on the wrist by Gurriel’s comebacker and made a hasty exit prior to the fifth.

Verlander, meanwhile, ran into a spot of trouble in the fifth inning. Aaron Hicks lined a two-out double into center field and Todd Frazier lofted an 0-1 pitch to left field in the next at-bat, where it got stuck in the chain-link fence for a ground-rule double. George Springer couldn’t throw his glove high enough to dislodge the ball — not that it would have helped — and the ruling tied things up for the Yankees as Aaron Hicks came home to score.

That was the last little bit of luck the Yankees got. While the Astros flailed against the Yankees’ bullpen, Verlander was on cruise control. He kicked off the sixth inning with back-to-back strikeouts to Brett Gardner and Aaron Judge and stranded Greg Bird in the seventh with two more strikeouts to Gary Sanchez and Starlin Castro. In the eighth, he struck out the side on 12 pitches, then returned for a scoreless ninth inning to make a bit of postseason history:

The fun didn’t end there, though. In the bottom of the ninth, Aroldis Chapman fanned Josh Reddick on four pitches, then watched Altuve return a 100-mph fastball to left field for a base hit. Correa worked the longest at-bat of the inning, lasting six pitches as Chapman made three pickoff attempts with Altuve hovering between first and second base. He prevailed in the end, however, lining a double into right field as Altuve made a madcap dash from first to home, sliding in for the walk-off run as Sanchez bobbled the ball in front of the plate. Words don’t do justice to this kind of ending:

Game 3 of the ALCS is set for 8:00 PM ET on Monday, when the series returns to New York for Games 3 and 4. Charlie Morton (14-7, 3.62 ERA) will help the Astros hunt for a 3-0 lead as CC Sabathia (14-5, 3.69 ERA) prepares to fight for his first postseason win since 2012.

Aaron Judge out of Yankees starting lineup for finale after No. 62

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ARLINGTON, Texas — Yankees slugger Aaron Judge wasn’t in the starting lineup for New York’s regular-season finale, a day after his 62nd home run that broke Roger Maris’ 61-year-old American League single-season record.

When Judge homered in the first inning Tuesday night, in the second game of a doubleheader against the Texas Rangers, it was his 55th consecutive game. He has played in 157 games overall for the AL East champions.

With the first-round bye in the playoffs, the Yankees won’t open postseason play until the AL Division Series starts next Tuesday.

Even though Judge had indicated that he hoped to play Wednesday, manager Aaron Boone said after Tuesday night’s game that they would have a conversation and see what made the most sense.

“Short conversation,” Boone said before Wednesday’s game, adding that he was “pretty set on probably giving him the day today.”

Asked if there was a scenario in which Judge would pinch hit, Boone responded, “I hope not.”

Judge went into the final day of the regular season batting .311, trailing American League batting average leader Minnesota’s Luis Arraez, who was hitting .315. Judge was a wide leader in the other Triple Crown categories, with his 62 homers and 131 RBIs.

Boone said that “probably the one temptation” to play Judge had been the long shot chance the slugger had to become the first AL Triple Crown winner since Detroit’s Miguel Cabrera in 2012.