Well that was a huge bummer. The Yankees went out of the postseason as sadly and quietly as they entered it, getting shut out and 3-hit at home in the Wild Card game by Dallas Keuchel and the Houston Astros. The bats never showed up, Tanaka's home run problem was front and center again, and the Astros will advance to play Kansas City in the ALDS while the Yankees will go home and start preparing for next year.
This was the biggest start to date for Masahiro Tanaka and he came out looking pretty good. His fastball was lively and popping the glove and he threw a lot of good, tight sliders in a 1-2-3 1st inning with 2 strikeouts. Colby Rasmus came up to lead off the top of the 2nd and hit the first pitch he saw DEEP into right for a solo home run. It was a fastball meant for the outside corner that ended up about thigh high on the inside corner and Rasmus was all over it. 1-0 Houston.
That homer seemed to rattle Tanaka a bit, and he labored through a busy 2nd. George Springer doubled to start the 3rd, but Tanaka stranded him with 3 big outs and appeared to be settling back in. Then Carlos Gomez came up to lead off the top of the 4th and he hit the first pitch he saw out to left center field for a solo home run. It was a classic cement mixer slider, starter belt high, middle and stayed there. Terrible pitch, 2-0 Houston.
Those 2 runs were all Houston would get against Tanaka, who was finished after 5, but it was more than enough for their ace. He put the Yankee hitters in a diaper for the third time this season, twirling 6 shutout innings with 1 walk and 7 strikeouts. Where Tanaka missed way off the corners and left meatballs out over the plate, Keuchel nicked the corners for called strikes and kept the ball out of the good parts of the hitting zone. He got some help from home plate umpire Eric Cooper, which was to be expected, but Keuchel didn't need any help. He absolutely overwhelmed the Yankee lineup.
The one time he did get into a bit of potential trouble was the 6th, when Didi Gregorius hit a leadoff single and Carlos Beltran singled with 2 outs to bring Alex Rodriguez to the plate for a third time. Houston manager AJ Hinch came out to talk to Keuchel, who said what his manager needed to hear to stay in the game and rewarded that faith by getting A-Rod to fly out harmlessly to center on a first-pitch cutter. That was the best and only real good scoring chance the Yankees had all night and it lasted about 75 seconds, including mound visit.
Joe went with his best bullpen arms after pulling Tanaka, which was the only decision to make in what should have been a close 2-run game. Justin Wilson got all 3 in the 6th and Luis Valbuena to ground out to start the 7th and that was it for him. Joe went to Dellin Betances for the real heavy lifting and Betances responded by walking Chris Carter on 5 pitches. The Astros put their bench to work, pinch running Jonathan Villar and having him steal second base to put a runner in scoring position. With 2 outs, Jose Altuve came up and just put the bat on an 0-1 curveball enough to dink it out into left field and score Villar. It was a big insurance run and there was nothing Betances' followup 3-K 8th inning could do to change that.
The bats went weakly in the 8th and 9th. 6 up, 6 down, no balls out of the infield. At least Jacoby Ellsbury got to pinch hit. You wouldn't want to waste that bullet after letting Gardner put up a silver sombrero. Bah.
Extended Game Notes since this is the last recap of the season:
- The biggest story early in the game was actually all the people that couldn't get into the game. If you weren't following on Twitter, the security line situation was a nightmare, with not enough entrances and scanners open and not enough personnel to help usher people into the stadium. To have that happen in a postseason game, your first one in 3 years, is disgraceful and shame on the Yankees for being so poorly organized and ill-prepared. Just another example of the differences between this Steinbrenner regime and the previous one.
- The signs were there on those Tanaka homers from the get go. He missed with multiple fastballs in the first at-bat of the game to Altuve. The command was never there on the corners and he put one right in the kitchen that Altuve didn't get. It was only a matter of time before that came back to bite him.
- The Yankees' approach of patience and driving up the pitch count was apparent from the jump. 5 of the first 6 batters of the game worked 2-ball counts and I believe 3 of them had 3-ball counts. There were also multiple strikeouts looking, which is never what you want to see. Even in the later innings, when they were down runs and Cooper's big strike zone had been clearly established, Yankee hitters were taking strike 3. That's not patience. I don't know what that is.
- Gardner was particularly awful in this approach last night. He took strike 3 in his first at-bat, took a very hittable strike 1 in his next, then flailed at 2 straight offspeed pitches way down and out of the zone. He was 0-4 with 3 strikeouts on the night, which will open Joe up to a lot of second guessing.
- And deservedly so. Joe was going to get killed for the decision either way unless the guy he played hit, and neither Gardner nor Ellsbury has given Joe any reason to expect that they would hit in this game. He made what he thought was the best of 2 bad choices and he owned that choice before and after the game. I'll recite that commenter quote again; if all your options are bad, you're likely to make a bad decision.
- If the 2 home runs didn't sum up Tanaka's night and his season, the 2 straight walks to Carter did. There's just no way Masahiro Tanaka walks a team's 8-hitter 2 straight times when he's right. Tanaka wasn't right for most of this season and he certainly didn't look like his best self last night.
- The Astros playing perfect smallball in the 7th against Betances was also pretty telling. The Yankees couldn't do squat to muster up any kind of a rally against Keuchel and the Houston 'pen. The Astros needed all of 11 pitches to scratch one across against arguably the best relief pitcher in baseball. They're the better baseball team, they played the game better, they deserved to win.
- Bad night for A-Rod (0-4, 2 Ks), bad night for McCann (0-4), just a bad night all-around for the offense. Bad approaches, bad swings, bad calls, bad luck. Bad, bad, bad offensive baseball.
- I don't want to get into too much next year talk because the body is still warm, but this team needs some right-handed bats in the worst way. Multiple. There's a young rotation, a solid bullpen, and some good pieces to work with. But the overall depth and talent of this team can still be improved.
- In the end, this Yankee team performed about to the level that was expected of them at their absolute best and finished up the season looking like what was feared they would look like at their worst. It was a much more fun season than the last few, I think we can all agree on that. Some really great moments, big wins, and a ton of positive performances from players young and old, returning and new. It's been mostly fun writing another season of game recaps. Time to rest up and start preparing for those ST mini-recaps in March.