Astros power past Yanks for 3-1 ALCS lead, Verlander up next

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Houston Astros’ George Springer, right, celebrates after his three-run home run off New York Yankees starting pitcher Masahiro Tanaka during the third inning in Game 4 of baseball’s American League Championship Series Thursday, Oct. 17, 2019, in New York. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

NEW YORK (AP) — They have the pitching, and they don’t need the pitches. Certainly, the Houston Astros have confidence for good reason on the brink of another World Series.

“It’s Justin Verlander,” reliever Ryan Pressly said.

George Springer and Carlos Correa each hit three-run homers and the Astros got another wild ace off the hook to beat the disheveled New York Yankees 8-3 Thursday night and reach the cusp of a second World Series visit in three years.

The Astros lead the AL Championship Series 3-1, putting the 2017 World Series winners a step away from a showdown with the NL champion Washington Nationals.

Houston still has Verlander and Gerrit Cole queued up for this series, and the Yankees will have to beat both to survive. Verlander will start Game 5 on Friday night against James Paxton.

Springer lined an errant splitter from playoff star Masahiro Tanaka in the third inning for his homer, and Correa battered Chad Green’s fastball when New York turned to its vaunted bullpen. Those All-Star sluggers have combined for just five hits in the series, but four have been homers.

Earlier in the day, Astros manager AJ Hinch ardently denied that his team has skirted rules to steal signs after an allegation by the Yankees, which was investigated and cleared by Major League Baseball. He also made it clear: If a pitcher is tipping what’s coming, Houston will take advantage.

The Astros are tired of that talk detracting from their sluggers.

“I think it’s disrespectful that every time we score a lot of runs, people talk about tipping,” Correa said. “Nobody was tipping today and we scored, what, eight runs? We’re great hitters. We’ve been doing it for a whole season.”

New York worked starter Zack Greinke hard during a 28-pitch first inning, but just like against Cole in Game 3, the clutch hit never came. Pressly dodged a bases-loaded jam in the fifth, and many fans had left Yankee Stadium by the time it ended shortly before 12:30 a.m.

The Yankees are at risk of failing to make the World Series for an entire decade for the first time since the 1910s. They are 0 for 13 with runners in scoring position the past two games. Didn’t help when they committed four errors in Game 4, most ever for the club in a home postseason game.

“We played poorly tonight, there’s no other way to explain it,” manager Aaron Boone said. “And we need to flush this immediately.”

Tanaka allowed four runs — three earned — for New York, his most in eight postseason starts.

CC Sabathia pitched in relief for New York but was pulled with a left shoulder injury during the eighth inning. Planning to retire after the season, an emotional Sabathia covered his face with his glove as he left the field for likely the final time. Fans shouted his name as he walked off, and Cole and Springer were among the Houston players who stood and clapped for the 39-year-old.

“I hate to see that for him,” said Hinch, who played with and against Sabathia. “I hate to see that for the sport.”

Gary Sánchez ended a lengthy postseason slide with a two-run homer, but a reshuffled Yankees lineup — still without injured Giancarlo Stanton — again couldn’t string together its damage.

During warmups, a buzzing Bronx crowd jeered Greinke with chants of “Donald! Donald!” — his given first name — and the veteran right-hander wobbled early. He walked three in the first inning for the first time since April 2007, including a four-pitch, bases-loaded free pass to Brett Gardner, and fell into a quick 1-0 hole.

Greinke struggled especially to locate his fastball before blowing one past Sánchez during a three-pitch K to end the inning. He sharpened up and retired nine straight before the Yankees pushed him out of the game while loading the bases in the fifth.

Pressly struck out Gleyber Torres — on a tight check swing — and Edwin Encarnación to escape.

“So far this series our bullpen has been huge to complement a really good starting rotation,” Hinch said.

Greinke was charged with just one run, working around four walks against the patient-but-punchless Yankees.

“Just missing by a little bit early,” Greinke said.

Springer is batting .132 in these playoffs, slumping just like he did in 2017 before breaking out to win World Series MVP. This homer was his 13th in the postseason, snapping a tie with teammate Jose Altuve for the club record.

Correa made it 6-1 in the sixth. At 25 years, 25 days, he is the youngest player with 10 postseason home runs, surpassing Albert Pujols.

“I grew up a huge fan of Albert Pujols,” Correa said. “I even wear No. 5 all the way growing up.”

Correa ended Game 2 with a home run in the 11th inning and connected again in October after missing a lot of time this year with injuries.

Sánchez snapped a 2-for-23 skid to start this postseason with his two-run homer in the sixth.

Otherwise, the AL East champion Yankees looked like they belonged in a lesser league. Sure-handed first baseman DJ LeMahieu booted two groundballs, Torres also made two errors at second, and reliever Adam Ottavino was pulled before getting an out for the fourth time in seven appearances this postseason.

“Our guys are studs and I think they embrace the challenge,” Boone said. “Obviously we’ve got our backs against the wall now.”

TRAINER’S ROOM

Yankees: Stanton has missed the past three games after straining his right quad in Game 1. Boone said Stanton was available to pinch hit and could be New York’s designated hitter Friday.

UP NEXT

Paxton said he watched tape from his Game 2 start and insists he wasn’t tipping pitches. Houston grinded him out of the game after 2 1/3 innings. Verlander pitched two-run ball into the seventh, the only damage coming on Aaron Judge’s two-run homer.

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