There are some things about which baseball players ought not to pop off, when it comes to their former clubs, especially when they’re about to face said clubs in a World Series. Things like .220/.273/.300 slash lines against their former teams. Things like their .258/.307/.335 slash lines when playing for said former teams, not to mention their measly two home runs and nine runs batted in.
If Alex Cora ever needs to remind himself about determination, he has only to look at an at-bat he had as a Dodger against the Cubs 12 May 2004. On that date, at 9:23 Pacific time, in that at-bat, he graduated from utilityman to mini-legend.
With Matt Clement on the mound, Cora looked at ball one up and away. Then it went: called strike. Ball two. Foul. Foul. Foul. Foul. Foul. Foul. Foul. Foul. Foul. Foul. Foul. Foul. Foul. Foul. Two-run homer.
Jose Altuve said after Game Six that he expected both the Astros and the Yankees would leave everything on the field in Game Seven of the American League Championship Series. He may have been too polite to say that, except for one Game Six burst, the Yankees may have left everything behind in New York.
This was the game Justin Verlander lived for from the first time he donned an Astros uniform this year. He’s 3-1 with a 1.49 ERA lifetime in postseason elimination games. He pitched a complete game masterpiece in Game Two of this American League Championship Series.
This was not in the Astros’ plans. Weren’t their starting pitchers, fortified by Justin Verlander’s arrival, supposed to keep these Yankees in check even when the American League Championship Series moved to the south Bronx? Enough that even their rickety bullpen could keep the Baby Bombers in their cribs?
They’re probably thinking now that it’s a bloody good thing they have a) the series home field advantage, and b) Verlander to pitch Game Six back in Houston. They’re probably also hoping Lance McCullers is willing to take the ball on somewhat short rest in a Game Seven if there is a Game Seven.
Yankee fans thought they could start to quit worrying about Aaron Judge coming out of a troubling postseason slump when he hit a mistake into the left field seats Monday night to finish the Yankee scoring. That was Game Three. In Game Four, Judge made sure they could. For now, anyway.
Just don’t ask the Leaning Tower of 161st Street how his boyhood dreams of hitting for distance in the south Bronx compares to actually up and doing it.
Of all the people watching when Todd Frazier connected off Astros starter Charlie Morton in the bottom of the second Monday night, there were two who were the most disbelieving: Frazier and Morton themselves.
Aaron Judge putting a dent in his postseason-long slump in the bottom of the fifth was believable enough to Yankee fans and too believable to the Astros. But Frazier looking like he was stumbling over a rolling oil drum as he swung with two out and two aboard wasn’t supposed to hang up a three-spot with that swing.
Justin Verlander’s career could end today, and Saturday’s the game they’ll remember him for for years to come. The no-hitters of the past? The dominance he once had in Detroit and re-claimed down the stretch for this year’s Astros? Sure, you’ll think of that. Hard not to.
But Game Two of this American League Championship Series is the one you’ll remember. When he went out like his vintage self and struck out a lucky (for him) thirteen Yankees and surrendered one measly fifth-inning run while pitching a five-hitter and giving the Astros bullpen the day off.
For a few moments it looked as though Astros manager A.J. Hinch made a big mistake in the bottom of the fifth in Fenway Park Monday. With one out and one on for the Red Sox, he brought in Justin Verlander, his Game One starter and winner—who’d never thrown an inning of relief in his life until now.
Later, in the bottom of the ninth, it looked like Hinch made a mistake asking closer Ken Giles for a six-out save when Red Sox rookie Rafael Devers stepped up to the plate to lead off.
It was as if the Red Sox called a conference before Game Three at Fenway Park and said, If you don’t mind, we’ll decide if and when we’re dead and buried. Designated hitter Hanley Ramirez’s exclamation point was the “Believe in Boston” sign he carried out during pre-game lineup introductions.