“Any time you break through against a pitcher or a team that’s really had your number, you can take a lot of confidence away from that,” said designated hitter Chase Headley, who had three hits.
The four runs the Yankees posted against Keuchel, the left-hander with the distinctive sternum-length beard, were the most they had scored against him in nine career starts, and his exit was the first time he failed to last six innings against them.
“The most frustrating part is I didn’t pick the guys up, and they were looking toward me to saddle up and get this thing going again,” Keuchel said of his teammates. “The first inning was really good, and it seemed like they made the necessary adjustments and put the ball in play in the right spots.”
It was the Yankees’ young core that carried the offense on Wednesday, with Aaron Judge, Greg Bird, Gary Sanchez and Didi Gregorius delivering run-scoring hits, and Sanchez adding a final flourish with a solo home run in the seventh inning off reliever Brad Peacock.
It was more than enough with the way Masahiro Tanaka pitched. He duplicated his last performance at Yankee Stadium, when he shut out the Cleveland Indians on three hits over seven innings to keep the Yankees alive in the division series with a 1-0 victory in Game 3.
Tanaka walked one and struck out eight and endured only a few tense moments on Wednesday. After Yulieski Gurriel led off the second with a double and advanced to third on a groundout, Tanaka got Carlos Beltran and Marwin Gonzalez to ground out. In the fifth, with Tanaka nursing a 2-0 lead, Gonzalez singled and Brian McCann walked. But with Tommy Kahnle beginning to get loose in the bullpen, Tanaka struck out George Springer and Josh Reddick.
Tanaka, who had lost two playoff starts to Keuchel – as well as on opening day last season – pumped his fist and yelled when Reddick swung over a splitter.
It was the type of exultation Tanaka regularly exhibited in Japan but has eschewed in favor of a more reserved demeanor since arriving in New York four years ago.
The game also carried the type of atmosphere that had regularly brought out the best in Keuchel against the Yankees. He said Tuesday that nothing invigorated him when he is warming up in the visiting bullpen quite like haranguing from fans — and the smell of funnel cakes and hot dogs.
When he makes that trip at Yankee Stadium, it is particularly saucy. “My mother has a nicer beard than you,” one fan heckled Keuchel as he got loose on Wednesday evening.
The catcalls in the Bronx are particularly pointed because of Keuchel’s history with the Yankees, having shut them out for six innings in the 2015 wild-card game and for seven innings in the opener of this series. He recorded a 1.09 E.R.A. against them in eight previous starts.
“When you play at home, things like this happen,” Keuchel said. “That’s why it’s so tough to win on the road in the playoffs. New York is no joke.”
Keuchel was not bad on Wednesday — he struck out eight. He just was not good enough.
Once Keuchel completed his work in the bullpen, running through his repertoire with his catcher, McCann, he picked up his jacket and received fist bumps from the retinue of other pitchers who had watched him prepare from behind a glass window before he headed to the dugout.
There was no immediate hint that the Yankees were on to Keuchel. He got Brett Gardner to tap back to him, then struck out the next three hitters he would face – Judge, Sanchez and Gregorius. But with two out in the second, Starlin Castro ripped a cutter for a double off the left-field wall – the only pitch Keuchel regretted – and Bird followed by lining a single over the head of the first baseman Gurriel, bringing Castro around to score.
The breakthrough allowed the Yankees to breathe.
“Getting on a great pitcher like that is key,” Bird said. “It puts pressure on him early. It doesn’t let him settle in. It’s big, it really is.”
“The pressure was on us, the pressure was on me to make pitches,” he said. “He hit a good pitch. It was inside. It was off the plate. He just sucked his hands in and got enough of it to get it over Yuli’s head. That proved to be all they needed.”
The Yankees added another run in the third when Judge turned on a cut fastball and whistled it down the third-base line, just out of the grasp of the diving third baseman Alex Bregman. Gardner, who had reached on a fielder’s choice, raced home to boost the lead to 2-0.
The Yankees chased Keuchel in the fifth when Bregman threw wildly on Headley’s slow roller, which sent Headley to second with one out. After Gardner hit another comebacker, Hinch visited the mound to address how they wanted to pitch Judge. The consensus: carefully.
After Judge walked, Sanchez — who had struck out all five times he had faced Keuchel in the series, including on three sliders in his previous at-bat — lashed a down-and-in slider into the left-field corner that scored Headley and sent Judge to third. Gregorius, who had struck out in his first two at-bats against Keuchel, grounded a single up the middle that went off the glove of the diving second baseman Jose Altuve to score Judge and make it 4-0.
It brought Hinch out of the dugout, and Keuchel was done. One more defeat and the Astros will be, too.
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