By Lenn Robbins
The worst nightmare became a reality Tuesday night for the Yankees. The kind of nightmare that when you awaken, it feels real. Because it was real.
The Yankees, for the second straight game, faced a dominating Houston starter and they were shut down like the ‘L’ Train on weekends. Gerritt Cole held the Bombers scoreless for seven innings, allowing just four hits in a 4-1 win in Game 3 of the ALCS in Yankee Stadium.
The Astros lead the series 2-1 which doesn’t seem daunting until you consider this:
The team that wins Game 3 in a series tied 1-1, has a 77.1-percent chance of closing it out, according to SABR.org.
The Yankees seem to have no clue – not many teams do – of knowing how to solve Justin Verlander and Cole. Cole, 29, is unbeaten in 25 starts dating back to his last loss on May 22. He’s 3-0 this postseason with an 0.40 ERA.
Whereas the Yankees hope to get 4-6 innings of solid starting pitching and then turn to the bullpen, one of the deepest in baseball, the Astros count on their starters to go 6-7 innings.
Verlander went six and two-thirds in Sunday night’s Game 2 victory, allowing two earned runs while striking out seven. Yankees starter James Paxton lasted just two and one-third innings.
Luis Severino, the Yankees starter Tuesday night, gave up a 420-foot home run to Jose Altuve, the second batter of the game. He lasted four and one-third innings allowing two home runs and yielding three walks.
“I don’t need to go out there and strike out 300 guys or win 20 games,’’ Severino told reporters earlier in the week. “I just need to go out there and match his stuff.”
He didn’t do that, which isn’t an indictment of the man considering he missed most of the season with shoulder and lat injuries.
The Yankees (and Astros) haven’t announced their starters for Wednesday night’s Game 4. Heavy rains are expected hours before, during and after Wednesday night’s 8:08 p.m. first pitch.
If the Nationals close out their NLCS against the Cardinals, we might see a paradigm shift in pitching philosophy. Teams have become bullpen-heavy.
Washington and Houston boast robust rotations and that has proven to be the more successful approach this postseason. The Yankees might have more time to think about that than they had hoped.
By winning Game 3 the Astros have guaranteed themselves of returning to Houston for Games 6 and 7 if necessary. Verlander and Cole could each make another start.
The nightmare has become reality.