Baseball / MLB

Astros pounce on Masahiro Tanaka, Yankees in Game 4

Kyodo, AP

Masahiro Tanaka yielded a go-ahead home run to George Springer in the third inning in the New York Yankees’ 8-3 loss to the Houston Astros in Game 4 of the American League Championship Series on Thursday.

Tanaka allowed four runs — three earned — on four hits and two walks over five-plus innings at Yankee Stadium. A pair of three-run homers helped the Astros take a 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven series.

“I wasn’t precise enough with my pitch control,” Tanaka said. “I needed to go a little lower (on the home run pitch to Springer) but I went into the strike zone too much.”

Tanaka allowed five straight baserunners in the third, while giving up the Yankees’ 1-0 lead, and exited in the sixth after Alex Bregman reached on a fielding error to open the frame.

“I thought (Tanaka) battled well,” New York manager Aaron Boone said. “They made pretty good contact with him — he didn’t have a lot of strikeouts. The fact that he got as deep through their order as he did speaks to his guile a little bit. I didn’t really think he had his split tonight. But he made some pitches.”

After tossing six scoreless innings in the Yankees’ 7-0 shutout in Game 1, Tanaka became the first major league pitcher in history to allow two or fewer runs in his first seven postseason starts.

Tanaka is now 5-3 with a 1.76 ERA over eight starts in his postseason career in the majors.

The Yankees face Justin Verlander in Game 5 on Friday night as they try to avoid what would be their first calendar decade without a World Series appearance since the 1910s.

“We played poorly tonight. There’s no other way to explain it,” Boone said after addressing the team in a postgame meeting. “We need to flush this immediately.”

Carlos Correa slugged a three-run shot off Chad Green in the sixth. That gave Houston a 6-1 lead.

Left-hander CC Sabathia, one of seven New York pitchers, relieved in the eighth inning, knowing the end was near to a 19-season career that included a 251-161 regular-season record with 3,093 strikeouts. After four stints on the injured list this year caused by his balky right knee, the 39-year-old left-hander craved one last October in the limelight, moving to the bullpen.

But his body gave out on his 20th pitch, a metaphor for the entire team against the Astros so far. He walked off the mound toward second, spoke with head athletic trainer Steve Donahue and tried a warmup toss, hoping somehow to push through, but he had to leave.

Even Houston’s Gerrit Cole and Springer joined in the applause as fans gave Sabathia limped off a standing ovation. When he reached the dugout, his face contorted, Sabathia took four steps down toward the clubhouse, then sat near the bottom, his back to the field, as Donahue tried to console him.

“Every single time he went out there, you had to rip the ball or his jersey off to get him off that mound,” Yankees slugger Aaron Judge said. “He got everything out of that arm. That’s a warrior right there.”

Boone said Sabathia could be replaced on the roster Friday, making him ineligible even should the Yankees come back and advance.

New York had not lost consecutive home games to the same opponent since early April, had not made four errors in a postseason game since 1976 — and never before in the Bronx. Some of the fans who remained in a mostly empty Yankee Stadium applauded sarcastically when shortstop Didi Gregorius caught an infield popup in the ninth.

Earlier, New York also threw a pair of wild pitches.

During the regular season, the Yankees led the major leagues with a .294 batting average with runners in scoring position. In the ALCS, they haven’t scored on a hit other than a home run since the opener.

New York was 0-for-7 with runners in scoring position, dropping to 4-for-27 in the four games — including 1-for-16 in the three straight losses. The Yankees stranded 10 runners, increasing their series total to 33. They struck out 13 times, giving them 43 in the series.

This game started to turn in the first inning, when Sanchez fanned on a low slider from the erratic Zack Greinke as New York failed to build on its 1-0 lead following Brett Gardner’s bases-loaded walk. With the Yankees trailing 3-1 in the fifth and the bases full again, Gleyber Torres struck out on a checked swing on an outside slider in the dirt from Ryan Pressly, and Edwin Encarnacion swung over a fastball, ending the inning.

Win by the homer, lose by the homer.

New York’s 306 long balls during the regular season were second to Minnesota’s big league record of 307. The Yankees led the majors with 943 runs, and were fourth in percentage of runs scored on homers at 51.1, trailing only Toronto (53.2), Milwaukee (51.5) and Minnesota (51.2).

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