Yankees Offense takes the Day off Against Justin Verlander

It’s been said that the Major League Baseball season does not begin in earnest until the calendar hits Memorial Day, in which case the Yankees picked the ideal opponent to stand against toe-to-toe.

The Houston Astros and their exceptional pitching kept the Yankees a game away from the World Series last season. On Monday, as the Astros romped to a 5-1 win at Yankee Stadium, it appeared as though nothing had changed.

For all the clout in the Yankees’ lineup — so loaded, one through nine, that otherwise certified big-league hitters have to be stashed in Class AAA, like a bin of quality toys in the attic — it can be neutralized. Good pitching beats good hitting, or so the adage goes. And so it went on Monday.

Justin Verlander delivered another stress-free gem to lead the Astros. A three-run homer by first baseman J. D. Davis off Yankees starter Domingo German all but wrapped things up in the second inning.

Normally, these Yankees might scoff at a three-run deficit. They are averaging nearly six runs per game.

But Verlander has been good enough this season to make three runs feel insurmountable.

“You can’t make mistakes when you’re facing that caliber of a pitcher,” German said through an interpreter.

The Yankees did threaten in their half of the second, putting two runners aboard with one out, but the veteran Verlander (7-2) zeroed in. He got the struggling Didi Gregorius — dropped to seventh in the order — to pop meekly to center on a 96-mile-per-hour fastball. Then he used some veteran savvy and a nice spin move to pick off the rookie Gleyber Torres at second base to end the threat.

“To be able to steal outs against a lineup like this, especially with guys on base in big spots, those are game changers,” Verlander said. “That was a big turning moment in the game for me.”

The Yankees would not get a runner to third until Greg Bird’s solo home run in the seventh. The lone run that Verlander surrendered in six and two-thirds innings actually raised his earned run average to 1.11, from 1.08, for the season.

“He uses all his pitches when he wants to and where he wants to,” Bird said. “That makes for a long day.”

Yankees Manager Aaron Boone opted to give a day off to Giancarlo Stanton, who has struggled at home this season. Stanton struck out four times on Sunday, but Boone said before the game that he was just trying to dole out some rest to key players in the middle of a tough stretch.

The strong performance from Bird, who went 2 for 4 in his third game since returning from the disabled list, showed he has not lost his smooth left-handed stroke. With the shortstop Gregorius trying to dig out of a protracted slump, the Yankees could use some pop from the left side of their infield.

But the Astros — as well as the first-place Boston Red Sox — will most likely remain a yardstick with which to measure how this Yankees team might fare again in October, when pitching so often takes precedence. Houston’s starting rotation has a collective E.R.A. nearly half a run better than the second-best team in baseball (Washington). The Astros feature three aces who could each win the Cy Young Award (Gerrit Cole, Charlie Morton and Verlander).

As his loaded lineup was being extinguished on Monday, Boone tried to remain positive.

“You realize it’s going to be tough,” Boone said. “But with our guys, you also know that if we continue to grind and continue to create traffic, we’re always one swing away from making a game out of it.”

That clutch swing did not come Monday. The question is whether it will arrive when the Yankees need it most.

Related Articles