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Astros vs. Yankees score: Alex Bregman’s three-run HR gives Houston 2-0 ALCS series lead

The Houston Astros are two wins away from their fourth American League pennant in the last six years. Thursday night, the Astros hung on to beat the New York Yankees in Game 2 of the ALCS (HOU 3, NYY 2). Alex Bregman provided the game-winning swing and, for the second straight night, the Yankees struggled simply to make contact in important at-bats.

Historically, teams that take a 2-0 series lead in a best-of-seven have gone on to win the series 84 percent of the time. The series is far from over, but the Astros are sitting pretty. They have five opportunities to win two games. The last team to erase a 2-0 series deficit was the Dodgers over the Braves in the 2020 NLCS. The Yankees last did it against the Braves in the 1996 World Series.

Here are four takeaways from Game 2, plus a look at what’s next.

1. Bregman opened the scoring

For only the second time in 2022, the Minute Maid Park roof was open Thursday night. Over the last three years, the home run rate to left field has been about 13 percentage points higher with the roof open than with the roof closed, and that little extra boost may have helped Alex Bregman and the Astros take an early 3-0 lead in Game 2.

In the bottom of the third, Bregman beat Luis Severino to his spot and parked an inside fastball into the Crawford Boxes for a three-run home run. At 91.8 mph, it was the fifth weakest-hit postseason home run of the Statcast era (since 2015), and similar batted balls go for a hit only 4 percent of the time. But, it landed in the seats, and that’s all that matters. Suddenly it was 3-0 Astros.

That was Bregman’s 14th career postseason home run, breaking a tie with Justin Turner for the most ever by a third baseman. Only 15 players have hit more postseason homers period. Obviously that’s a function of the era – there are most postseason games now than ever before – but you still have to go out and hit those dingers. It ain’t easy.

2. The Yankees answered right back

Given New York’s offensive struggles, it felt like the Astros would cruise to a Game 2 win after Bregman’s homer. Instead, the Yankees answered back in the next half inning. The inning-changer: Framber Valdez making two errors on one play, muffing a comebacker, then throwing the ball away from his seat of his pants. That put runners on second and third with no outs.

The Yankees got the two runs in, which is important, though it wasn’t sexy. Anthony Rizzo pulled a two-strike grounder to first base to score the first run and advance the runner to third, then Gleyber Torres beat out a two-strike infield single to score the second run. Only 11 pitches after Bregman made it 3-0, the Yankees cut it to 3-2.

Going into Game 2, the Yankees had scored 18 of their 22 postseason runs on home runs, or 82 percent (the Astros had a similar rate going into Game 2: 13 of 17, or 76 percent). In that fourth inning though, contact reigned supreme. Good two-strike hitting – good 0-2 count hitting – by Rizzo and Torres to put the ball in play and get those important runs home.

3. Valdez settled down

After the Torres infield single to score New York’s second run, Valdez retired 11 of the last 12 batters he faced, including seven via strikeout. Justin Verlander retired the final 11 batters he faced in Game 1, including nine on strikeouts. Both Astros starters labored a bit early on, then found it in the middle innings, and rolled to the finish.

Overall, Valdez struck out nine in seven innings, and his 25 swings and misses are a new career high (regular season or postseason). He got 16 swings and misses on his curveball alone, the most on a curveball in a postseason game since pitch tracking first became available in 2008. The sinker / curveball combination was truly dominant.

The Astros rolled out righty Bryan Abreu against the top of the lineup in the eighth inning, and he very nearly gave up the lead. Likely AL MVP Aaron Judge shot a line drive to right field that Kyle Tucker caught at the top of the wall. Replays showed it was not going to be a home run, but it was damn close. Check it out:

Sports Info Solutions notes Tucker led MLB with three home run robberies during the regular season. Again, that wasn’t going to be a homer, but it was close enough that Tucker’s home run robbery skills came into play. Also, Statcast says Judge’s rocket would have been a home run in only one MLB ballpark: Yankee Stadium’s short right field porch.

Abreu recovered to escape the eighth inning and Ryan Pressly closed it out in the ninth. The Yankees had only three baserunners following Torres’ infield single to score their second run in the fourth inning. They struck out 13 times in Game 2 after striking out 17 times in Game 1.

4. Altuve’s record slump continued

With another 0 for 4 in Game 2, Jose Altuve is now 0 for 23 this postseason. It is his longest hitless streak of 2022 and the longest hitless streak to begin a postseason in history. The previous record was held by Dal Maxvill, who went hitless in 22 at-bats in the 1968 World Series with the Cardinals. Hard to believe a hitter this good can be this bad in the postseason.

To be fair, the Yankees turned a gorgeous double play to rob Altuve of a hit in the seventh inning. This is spectacular:

This sport is cruel. When you’re stuck in your longest hitless streak of the year, that happens to you. The Astros will play at least four more games this postseason. I can’t imagine Altuve will go hitless in all four of them.

5. Up next

Friday is an off day – it is the only off day of the series – before the ALCS resumes Saturday evening at Yankee Stadium. Former Astro Gerrit Cole (13-8, 3.50 ERA) will start for the Yankees. He’ll be working on an extra day of rest following last Sunday’s start in Game 4 of the ALDS, though he also warmed up in the bullpen in Game 5 on Tuesday. Astros manager Dusty Baker said pregame they’re “undecided” about their Game 3 starter. Righties Lance McCullers Jr. (4-2, 2.27 ERA) and Cristian Javier (11-9, 2.54 ERA), are the leading candidates.

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