“It was his night,” Astros Manager A.J. Hinch said. “He played defense tonight. He did a lot of things well for them and really was a big difference in the game.”
The Yankees, who had the best home record in the American League during the regular season, continued to look like a different team at a re-energized Yankee Stadium, where they have won all four games in the postseason. The Astros, who played two airtight games in Houston over the weekend, seemed to feel as uncomfortable in the Bronx as the Minnesota Twins did in the wild-card game and the Cleveland Indians did in the division-series round.
“Our players are used to this field,” said Manager Joe Girardi, who will send Sonny Gray to pitch against the Astros’ starter, Lance McCullers Jr., in Game 4 on Tuesday at 5:08 p.m. “They know how to hit here and our fans — our fans are great. I’m watching them in the first inning in left field and they’re banging on the wall. And I love it.”
The Yankees also loved that they were getting a break from Dallas Keuchel and Justin Verlander — the Astros’ two former Cy Young Award winners who dominated them over the weekend. Still, they did not exactly strafe the Astros’ starter on Monday, the right-hander Charlie Morton.
Three of their six hits off Morton did not leave the infield, and two others barely did: a bloop single by Aaron Hicks in the second and a bloop double by Greg Bird in the fourth. But they hurt just the same.
With two outs in the second, Starlin Castro reached on dribbler to third and Hicks followed with a flare into left field. That brought up Frazier, who lunged at a 95-mile-per-hour fastball that was low and off the plate, and lifted it toward right field.
The swing was so awkward that right fielder Josh Reddick broke in on the ball before realizing how hard it had been hit. Reddick retreated and gave chase, but the ball landed in the bleachers for a three-run shot.
As it did, Frazier, who grew up in Toms River, N.J., let out a yell from the basepath and pointed to some friends and relatives who were marooned in right field instead of the family section in the second deck behind the Yankees’ dugout. (“I got yelled at today,” he said.)
Frazier then pointed down to his wrist. “I’m pointing to them and saying, ‘What time is it?’ ” Frazier said. “It’s my time.”
But the lead did not look any sturdier than Frazier’s swing did as the Astros loaded the bases with two outs in the third after Sabathia walked George Springer and Jose Altuve around a single by Alex Bregman. That brought up Carlos Correa, who had homered and doubled to account for both Astros runs on Saturday.
But Sabathia’s 0-1 cutter got in on Correa’s hands, and he popped out to end the threat.
“He likes to get his hands extended,” said Sabathia, who had the first scoreless outing of his playoff career. “I was trying to get something in on him and made a good enough pitch where he popped up to short.”
In the fourth, it was Judge’s turn to thwart the Astros.
Judge, who had stolen a two-run home run from Francisco Lindor in a 1-0 win over the Indians in Game 3 of their division series, brought the crowd to its feet again — by leaving his feet again.
This time he crashed into the wall to catch a drive by Yulieski Gurriel to begin the fourth inning. Judge slammed into the wall with his left shoulder, which he had been treating with ice for after games for much of the second half of the season. After the catch, he tumbled to the warning track, the crowd roared and Sabathia threw both arms into the air.
“There’s not much give in any wall,” Yankees outfielder Brett Gardner said. “It may help if you hit it somewhere where there’s not any stands behind them, but that pad is only a couple of inches thick, and right behind that is not moving, even as big as he is. Even though it’s padded, it’s a pretty good hit he took.”
In the fifth, Judge came to Sabathia’s aid again, racing in to make a diving catch of Cameron Maybin’s liner, again lifting the crowd off its seats.
It was those types of contributions that had left Girardi heartened even though Judge, even after the home run, was 3 for 30 with 21 strikeouts since the start of the division series. While he acknowledged Judge might be pressing, Girardi also praised his attitude, his work ethic and his defense.
Judge said he remained committed to the approach he used during the regular season, when he led the A.L. with 52 home runs, a major-league rookie record.
“A big change I wanted to make this year was just prepare the right way, prepare the same way and see how it works,” Judge said. “It works during the regular season, and why would I come in the postseason and try to change something even though I’m struggling for three or four games, five, six games?”
When the Yankees took command in the fourth, their rally again had modest roots against Morton. Bird led off with a bloop double that Maybin, the left fielder, shied away from catching. After Morton retired Castro and Hicks — Bird advancing to third on the latter’s fly ball to right — Frazier drew a walk.
Chase Headley then hit a grounder up the middle that Altuve snagged with a dive, but he had no play as Bird crossed the plate. It was the first hit of the playoffs for Headley and the first by a Yankees designated hitter. After Gardner was hit by a pitch to load the bases, Manager A. J. Hinch called on the right-hander Will Harris to relieve Morton.
Harris threw Judge a 2-2 fastball up and in, but Judge turned on it and lashed a line drive that carried over the head of Maybin and landed in the first row of the left-field bleachers. Suddenly, the Yankees’ lead was 8-0.
If that ended any suspense, there were still a few moments of agitation in the ninth. Dellin Betances walked two batters, Tommy Kahnle allowed a walk and a single, and closer Aroldis Chapman was getting loose in the bullpen before Altuve grounded into a double play to end the game.
“We just couldn’t get back in the game,” Hinch said after the Yankees, with a lift from their big right fielder, managed to get back in the series.
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