NEW YORK (AP) — Didi Gregorius turned on a first-pitch fastball from Gerrit Cole with two on and two outs in the fifth inning and sent it soaring toward the right-field seats. The crowd at Yankee Stadium rose and roared, hoping for a go-ahead drive.
“I think every flyball in 2019 is a homer,” Houston manager AJ Hinch said. “It’s kind of been conditioned that way.”
Gregorius stood at the plate, watching, then took some tentative steps toward first base as Josh Reddick gloved the ball a step in front of the right-field wall, 343 feet away.
“I missed it,” Gregorius said. “I know I didn’t have all of it.”
New York stranded nine during a 4-1 loss to Houston on Tuesday night that put the Yankees in a 2-1 AL Championship Series deficit, going 0 for 6 with runners in scoring position.
Gregorius, who hit a grand slam against Minnesota in the previous playoff round, left the bases loaded in the first when he hit an inning-ending groundout — also on the first pitch. He went 0 for 4 and saw just six pitches after averaging 4.01 per plate appearance during the regular season.
“Most of the game was on me,” he said. “I didn’t come through, so I was the one that failed, not the whole team.”
New York averaged 4.06 pitches per plate appearance during the regular season, second to Seattle’s 4.11. But the Yankees had a hyper-aggressive approach on Cole, with Aaron Judge, Edwin Encarnación and Gregorius hitting the first pitch in the opening inning. Encarnación also saw just one pitch in the third.
“I felt like tonight a little bit, and even me especially, chased a lot of stuff out of the zone,” Judge said. “When you chase stuff out of the zone with the type of caliber pitching they’ve got, especially what Gerrit Cole has been doing, you’re going to be in trouble. So the thing is just us, just regrouping and getting back to staying in our zone. That’s all we need to do.”
New York had three singles and a double in seven innings against Cole. Gleyber Torres homered off Joe Smith in the eighth in what turned out to be the Yankees’ final hit.
Gregorius (1 for 12), Encarnación (1 for 12), Gary Sánchez (1 for 13), Brett Gardner (2 for 13) and DJ LeMahieu (5 for 13) haven’t driven in a run.
Sánchez who hit 34 home runs this season, has no RBIs in six postseason games. Judge, Encarnación and once-again injured Giancarlo Stanton have just two RBIs each, and Gio Urshela one.
“Certainly you don’t want to allow a lot of pitchers, but certainly great pitchers, to just get ahead with ease,” manager Aaron Boone said. “So I think guys were up there being aggressive.”
Cole got Judge to flail at a low and away slider , stranding two with an inning-ending strikeout in the second.
“I don’t think I got one pitch over the heart of the plate,” Judge said. “When that happens, you kind of get frustrated and kind of chase a little bit.”
LeMahieu flied to deep center ending the fourth and leaving two more on,
“I always think it’s important to go in there on the hunt, especially when you’re up against a good pitcher,” Boone said. “You can’t just give great pitchers strike one.”
Reliever Adam Ottavino has allowed six hits and three walks while facing 16 batters in the postseason. With New York trailing 2-0, he walked George Springer leading off the seventh and allowed a single to José Altuve. Zack Britton relieved and two runs scored on a wild pitch and Yuli Gurriel’s sacrifice fly .
“I’m not going to let it define me. I’m not going to dwell on a couple pitches here and there,” Ottavino said. “Obviously, it’s frustrating, and those are the types of games I want to be in. It’s the reason I came to this team and everything I wanted my whole life. So I want to do better. I want to get out there again.”
Restless Yankees fans threw debris on the field when a replay review changed Encarnación’s infield hit leading off the eighth to a groundout. They cheered when Luis Cessa hit Alex Bregman on the back with a 92 mph fastball in the ninth.
“You throw a baseball hard enough and hit somebody in the head when they’re not looking. It could do some damage to the player, so it’s definitely disrespectful and at the same time very unsafe,” Reddick said. “There’s no place in baseball for that. It’s disrespectful and unsafe.”
Boone said if Game 4 is pushed back to Thursday because of rain, the Yankees likely would start Game 1 winner Masahiro Tanaka on normal rest rather than go with an all-bullpen effort as originally planned.