HOUSTON — With just two weeks to go before the trade deadline, the Yankees were reminded that despite leading the American League in wins, they are still chasing the Astros. Lefty pinch hitter JJ Matijevic singled in a run with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning as Houston beat the Yankees 3-2 at MinuteMaid Park in the first game of a split doubleheader Thursday.
Alex Bregman led off with a first-pitch single and Aledmy Diaz doubled off Michael King to put runners in scoring position with no outs in the bottom of the inning. King struck out Yuli Gurriel, before the Yankees intentionally walked Yordan Alvarez to load the bases with one out. King struck out Chas McCormick.
Aaron Hicks lined a one-out single off Hector Neris in the top of the ninth to get things started. Giancarlo Stanton, fresh off winning the All-Star Game MVP, grounded out, but Isiah Kiner-Falefa, pinch hitting for Marwin Gonzalez, got a sharp ground ball through the hole at shortstop to tie the game. Joey Gallo worked a two-out, five-pitch walk. Neris got a groundout from DJ LeMahieu to end the inning.
The Yankees (64-29) have lost three of their last five and start the sprint in the final 70 games of the season with a loss. The loss also cost them the season series to the Astros, who held a 3-2 lead heading into this doubleheader, which was scheduled to make up for a series lost by the late start following the owners’ lockout.
Jordan Montgomery held the Astros to two runs on seven hits. He walked one and struck out eight. It was his 17th start allowing three earned runs or less, tied for the most this season.
He gave up an RBI-single to Alex Bregman in the first and a run-scoring double in the second to catcher Korey Lee.
LeMahieu lined his ninth home run of the season off Javier in the fifth inning. That snapped 11 innings that the Bombers had been held scoreless by the Astros’ right hander. It was one of just two hits the Yankees got off Javier in five innings of work.
The Yankees went into the All-Star break with a 13-game lead in the American League East, the biggest lead at the break since the start of divisions in 1969. Their 64 wins before the break were the most in franchise history before the All-Star Game since it was established in 1933. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, they were only the sixth major league team to win 64 of their first 92 games.
“We obviously want to continue to build on that. We’ve talked a lot about winning games in different ways and being a complete team. There’s still room to grow in that area and we’re gonna keep working hard to be the best team we can be and put ourselves in a great position to go do something special.”
The Yankees hold the best record in baseball and if the season ended right now, they’d hold the top seed in the American League and would have home-field advantage over the Astros. Still, the Astros have been the Yankees playoff Kryptonite, with the Bombers losing the AL Championship Series to them in both 2017-19 and the Wild Card Game in 2015.
And with the loss in the first game of the doubleheader, the Yankees have now lost the season series to the Astros. That means that should the teams finish with identical records, the Yankees would lose the head-to-head tiebreaker.
The Bombers, who head to Baltimore to continue this roadtrip, will not see the Astros again this season unless it’s in October. They can stay ahead of them in the standing and not have to worry about that tiebreaker.
On Thursday, after a short All-Star break to make up for the lockout, Boone wasn’t looking to October.
“I mean, of course. Obviously, first you want to be a playoff team. You want to win your division. If you have a chance, you want to have the best record,” Boone said. “You’re always trying to do that. You have different ways to get there. I also feel like we’re getting ahead of ourselves in that regard. Hopefully, we’re in a position to do that a couple of months from now, but right now it’s just about getting guys back and going and working to become the best team we can.”