MLB playoffs: Yankees miss chances, let winnable game slip away in ALCS Game 2 vs. Astros

HOUSTON -- A commanding 2-0 series lead was within reach. Despite James Paxton's poor start, the New York Yankees had a 2-1 lead against Justin Verlander and the Houston Astros in Game 2 of the American League Championship Series on Sunday night. Then, in a postseason in which everything had gone right for the Yankees, everything suddenly went wrong.

George Springer tied the score with a towering solo home run against righty specialist Adam Ottavino in the fifth inning, and after another 5 1/2 innings of not much happening offensively for either team, Carlos Correa swatted a walk-off solo home run in the 11th inning to tie the series 1-1 (HOU 3, NYY 2). The ALCS is now a best-of-five series heading back to New York.

"It's tough," Aaron Judge said following Game 2. "We had a lot of chances that game. We had them on the ropes basically all game. Just weren't able to seal the deal." 

As is often the case with extra-inning losses, Game 2 was fraught with missed opportunities for the Yankees. Most notably, DJ LeMahieu was thrown out at the plate to end the sixth inning after Jose Altuve booted Brett Gardner's hard-hit ground ball. Correa retrieved the ball and fired a strike to the plate for the out. LeMahieu was out by a mile thanks to the heads-up play.

"Huge awareness play at shortstop," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. "Throws a bullet to (catcher Robinson) Chirinos to get the out when LeMahieu came around third ... We've always said he's a big part of our offense, big part of our defense, big part of our team."

Given the outcome, it's easy to say LeMahieu should've held at third. It was worth pushing the envelope though. The options were hope Gary Sanchez comes through with a two-out hit against Verlander to get the run home (not easy!), or hope the throw is imperfect. Consider where Correa was relative to the ball as LeMahieu reached third base:

"I thought it skipped off further, and I was an absolute send from where I was standing, I'm right behind third base there," Yankees manager Aaron Boone said. "Great heads up play by Correa, to be in that position, to catch it clean, and then obviously with his arm to throw a strike home. So I had no issue with the play at all."

Following that play 14 of the next 16 Yankees to bat made outs, and the two baserunners were walks. It was not until the top of the 11th inning that the Yankees put together another rally. Edwin Encarnacion drew a two-out walk, Gardner hit a two-out single, then Josh James struck out Sanchez to end the inning. Sanchez is now 2 for 17 (.118) in the postseason. 

"Had quite a few chances to score guys and just couldn't get the job done. That's what it comes down to. A lot of missed opportunities," Judge said. "I think back to -- I think DJ singled off Verlander and I got a pitch right down the middle and I hit a ball to the track. That can't happen. I've got to deliver right there. Just missed opportunities."

Paxton couldn't find the zone and failed to complete three innings, yet New York's bullpen mostly kept the Astros quiet. Even including Springer's homer against Ottavino, six relievers held Houston to one run and four baserunners from the third through tenth innings. The Yankees got the bullpen work they needed. The offense had no answer for the Astros bullpen, however.

The score being tied 2-2 after seven innings with Verlander out of the game was a win for the Yankees. They would've signed up for that before the game and taken their chances with what happened next. The offense fell flat though, and the pitchers could only hold the Astros down so long. Rather than steal a win in Game 2 to go up 2-0, the ALCS is now even 1-1.  

"It was a struggle tonight," Boone added. "... We know this isn't going to be an easy series by any means. But over time I'll take our guys and their approach, and tonight they just did a better job of holding us down."  

The Yankees have to do two things to win the ALCS. One, they had to win a game at Minute Maid Park, and they did that in Game 1. And two, they have to beat Verlander or Gerrit Cole at least once. That's the way the math works. Those two are going to start four times in a best-of-seven series, so you have to beat them at some point. An opportunity to do so slipped away in Game 1.

Not only that, but the Astros have Cole lined up to start Game 3, and he has been the best pitcher in the postseason. It's not all that close really. Rather than go to the Bronx with a 2-0 lead and Cole trying to keep his team alive, the Yankees are now suddenly set to need to beat Cole to avoid going down 2-1 in the series. Game 2 swung things in the Astros favor to some degree, for sure.

Ultimately, splitting two games in Houston is a good outcome for the Yankees, especially since they went 0-4 with three runs scored total at Minute Maid Park in the 2017 ALCS. Once you win Game 1 and win it convincingly, it's easy to get greedy, and Game 2 was a very winnable game for New York. It slipped away, and now they'll have to regroup for Game 3 on Tuesday.

"We're confident going back home splitting the two games here," Judge said. "Always like our chances going home, especially for three. It's time to roll. It's the postseason. We're going to get it done."

CBS Sports Writer

Mike Axisa joined CBS Sports in 2013. He has been a member of the BBWAA since 2015 and has previously written about both fantasy baseball and real life baseball for MLBTradeRumors.com, FanGraphs.com, RotoAuthority.com,... Full Bio

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