BY LESLIE MONTEIRO
(Photo credit: Al Bello/Getty Images)
This weekend was fun, wasn’t it?
This was a series for a baseball fan. This series lived up to the billing and hype. It had everything a baseball fan wanted: Dramatic home runs. Combined no-hitter. Superb pitching. Emotion.
Everyone hyped up this weekend series between two of the best teams in the American League and maybe in baseball in the Houston Astros and New York Yankees. This was not just another series despite what both teams said. This meant something.
For the Yankees, it was a chance to make a statement to the AL defending champions that this was a different Yankees team they were facing. For the Astros, it was a chance to show the Yankees the road to World Series goes through them.
This series ended up what a baseball fan would expect. A draw as in a split. This is just right. There shouldn’t be a verdict as we sit here on June 27. The only thing that matters is October if both teams face each other.
Still, it was nice to get a taste of postseason baseball in the regular season. An experience of what may come in October. The way it should be with those two creme de la creme AL teams.
The Yankees earned the split Sunday afternoon on a come-from-behind 6-3 victory in 10 innings over the Astros Sunday afternoon after being in the process of being no-hit for the second game in a row. Giancarlo Stanton broke the no-hitter in the seventh inning with one out by hitting a cheap Yankee Stadium home run that gave the Yankees their first run of the game. This set the stage for DJ LeMahieu to hit a game-tying three-run home run in the eighth inning. Then, who else but Aaron Judge hit a game-winning three-run home run to give the Bronx Bombers a win, waking up the crowd out of its slumber all day long.
The Yankees needed that. It was a response after the Astros won two straight with a no-hitter to show for it on Saturday. They couldn’t finish the weekend series by losing three of four to their nemesis at home. Their fans hyped up this weekend as a referendum for their team to show how good they really are, so if the Yankees lost this series, it would have been a terrible look.
With the way they bounced back to win it, this has to make them feel good heading to this week. There’s no doubt about them being an elite team. They should be able to play in October at bare minimum. Only the Boston Red Sox and Astros are two teams they should be worrying about in the American League. The Tampa Bay Rays are not really that good, and the Toronto Blue Jays are overrated.
The Astros approached the series finale with nothing to lose. They got what they wanted by winning two games in a hostile environment. They knew they could do no worse than a split. This wasn’t a must-win game for them as it was for their counterpart. They made an impression by bouncing back from Thursday night’s 7-6 loss, which they led 6-3 in the ninth inning, by winning 3-1 Friday night and 3-0 on Saturday afternoon. That was championship resolve right there. The type that makes them a serious threat to the Yankees’ championship No. 28 chances. You can bet that Sunday’s loss won’t bother them much. This wasn’t the Jays, Rays, Minnesota Twins or an AL Central team the Yankees played this weekend. The Astros gave the Yankees and their fans a reminder this weekend.
The stars came to play in this series. Judge came up big this weekend as one would expect starting with the game-winning single on Thursday night and he finished up in style by hitting a game-winning home run to end the series. Yankee killer Jose Altuve played well as evident with his leadoff home on Sunday afternoon and his eighth inning home run Saturday afternoon. Justin Verlander stymied the Yankees on Friday night by allowing one run on four hits.
The Astros pitching gave the Yankees a reminder of what great pitching can do. They should like their chances against the Yankees with Verlander, Cristian Javier, who struck out 13 Yankees Saturday, and Lance McCullers Jr. (injured list with a forearm injury) forming a great starting trio. That stands out the most of what happened in this series. Their starters can throw smoke, so that will give the Yankees and their fans something to think about this fall.
Javier, Hector Neris and Ryan Pressly combined to pitch a no-hitter against the Yankees served as a high point of the series, and it highlighted the Astros’ weekend. Javier attacked the strike zone and give the Yankees no margin for error at the plate. For the bullpen to maintain this no-hitter, it was impressive.
Of course, there was emotion in this series. How could it not be with the history of those two teams? The Astros were in jubilation with that no-hitter. The Yankees acted like they won the World Series on Thursday night and Sunday afternoon.
It was fitting that it ended with a split. The way it should be. For anyone to declare victory this weekend is foolish. There won’t be a Canyon of Heroes parade this week, even if the Yankees fans want it to happen. The Astros will move on to play the Mets at Citi Field on Tuesday night.
This series provided a reason why baseball can be fun to watch. It was refreshing that the games did not last that long. This gave a baseball fan so much to talk about.
It just makes a baseball fan longing for this to be the AL Championship Series matchup in October.
This writer can be reached on Twitter at: @LeslieMonteiro6