Questionable early exits of two opposing pitchers made for Monday morning quarterbacking Tuesday night in the Bronx.
New York managed to tie the series 2-2 with a 6-4 win, but not without a lot of head scratching from this lifelong baseball fan.
After walking the leadoff batter in the sixth, a catcher’s interference put runners on first and second, provoking a jittery Joe Girardi to relieve Gray for the very reliable David Robertson. Mind you, at this point, the righty had relinquished one hit on a total of 85 pitches.
Robertson lost the battle with the first batter, a walk to Jose Altuve to load the bases. Carlos Correa went down swinging on an 85 mph curve, but Yuli Gurriel laced the 32-year-old’s slower offering to left for a bases-clearing double. Gurriel got greedy and was gunned down at third by Didi Gregorius’s relay to Todd Frazier. Alex Bregman ended the rally with an infield ground out.
McCullers was still sharp in the bottom frame, retiring the side in order. Houston made it four-zip off a double by Marwin Gonzalez, who scored on an error by Starlin Castro as he lost his footing trying to field a bad hop ground ball from Brian McCann.
In the seventh, Aaron Judge jacked a solo shot to center, sending Astros skipper A.J. Hinch to the mound to give McCullers the hook – a move that may haunt him forever.
“He was throwing the ball great at the end of his outing,” Hinch said of McCullers, “and we got him out after the one pitch. We had the pocket for Devenski with the two lefthanded hitting guys.”
Chris Devenski in relief made a mess of McCullers’ masterpiece, surrendering a triple to Gregorius and a sac fly to Gary Sanchez, cutting Houston’s lead in half. Joe Musgrove came out of the pen to put out the fire retiring Castro and Aaron Hicks via a ground out and fly ball to right.
Shane Greene, money throughout the regular and postseason, retired the Astros in the top of the eighth in order.
Musgrove returned from a previous inning well done, but as soon as Frazier lined a sharp leadoff single to left, you just knew that the series was heading back to Houston. And if you had any doubt, it was immediately erased when Chase Headley hit a pinch-hit single to left, advancing Frazier to third, taking second on a botched rundown.
With no outs and two runners in scoring position, closer Ken Giles became the third Houston hurler to try and stop the comeback bleeding, but New York wasn’t in a conceding state of mind. Brett Gardner got the baby bombers within one scoring Frazier on a ground out to second. Then Judge, the rookie who makes everyone in Yankee Stadium rise, doubled deep to left making it a 4-4 game.
“They were very patient at the plate,” Giles said. “They stayed off some good pitches. It wasn’t because we were unraveling as much as it was they were slowly driving us into the ground.”
Gregorius singled, and Sanchez, who sat this one out behind the plate, delivered in front of it with a go ahead two-run double, which held up after Aroldis Chapman picked up the save with a perfect ninth.
“There’s no doubt the crowd had an effect on the game,” Astros DH Carlos Beltran said. “This place is loud, same as it was in Houston.”
All I can say, it’s beginning to look a lot like Cleveland, or worse yet for Houston, New York redemption for being humiliated in 2004 by Boston.