By Lenn Robbins
The Yankees are on a plane back to Houston because on the biggest stage, pitching in the biggest game of the season, The Big Maple came up with the biggest performance of his career.
James Paxton, went pitch for pitch with the Astros Justin Verlander, a strong candidate to win his second Cy Young, and did exactly what the Yankees were hoping for when they acquired the him from the Mariners in November of 2018.
“He’s got to go out and pitch well and set the tone for us,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone told reporters. “Because we want to get on that plane to Houston now, and that starts with Pax.”
You can just hear the flight attendant say, “Please bring your seat backs forward and place your service trays in the upright and locked position,” after Paxton held the Astros to just one run over six innings. He struck out nine, walked four and threw 112 pitches.
Verlander also was good. He struck out nine, didn’t walk a batter and threw 105 pitches. But two of those pitches the Yankees cracked for home runs.
After DJ LeMahieu tied the score at 1-1 in the bottom of the first, Aaron Hicks gave the Yankees the big hit they’ve been missing in this ALCS, which the Astros now lead 3-2
Hicks crushed a three-run homer that ricocheted off the right field foul pole in the bottom of the first. Yankee Stadium exploded. Neither team could produce another run, as the Yanks won, 4-1.
Paxton had a very solid season. He didn’t lose a game in August and September and finished the regular season with a 15-6 record and a 3.82 ERA. But his first two postseason starts were underwhelming and the Yankees, facing an elimination game with Verlander looking to slam the door, got Paxton’s performance of the season.
“When you think of the Yankees, you think of the postseason,” Paxton told reporters. “They pride themselves on winning and that’s what we do here. I knew that I’d probably get an opportunity of pitching the postseason, and that’s what I wanted to do.
“That’s what I wanted to do when I came here, and that’s what we’re doing now. It’s been a great experience and I want to keep on going.”
The Yankees keep their season going because The Big Maple came up big.