MLB Playoffs: Yankees miss out on big chances to crack Astros ace Gerrit Cole in ALCS Game 3

NEW YORK -- Gerrit Cole bent, but he did not break. The Houston Astros co-ace -- and former New York Yankees first-round draft pick -- wiggled in and out of danger in Game 3 of the ALCS on Tuesday night, helping the Astros to a 2-1 series advantage (HOU 4, NYY 1). Houston has reclaimed home-field advantage after losing Game 1 at Minute Maid Park.

The Yankees did not make life easy on Cole in Game 4. The flame-throwing monster who shut the Rays down twice in the ALDS only appeared sporadically Tuesday night, and instead had to grind through long at-bats against the self-proclaimed 'Savages in the Box.' New York put two at least runners on base in three of the first five innings, and had the go-ahead run at the plate eight times.

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Gerrit Cole NYY • SP • 45
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"I think we ended up with probably about nine baserunners against him. You kind of sign up for that," Yankees manager Aaron Boone said after Game 3. "We weren't able to break through. We weren't able to get that hit tonight to really allow us to be in that game or even grab a lead at some point. Frustrating but overall I thought from a plan standpoint."

One of those eight times the Yankees had the go-ahead run at the plate came in the fifth inning, when Didi Gregorius sent a long fly ball to the warning track that is almost certainly a home run with the regular season baseball:

"The emotions kind of followed the fly ball," Cole explained when asked about the near homer. "So it was kind of low (off the bat) to freaking out (at the apex of the fly ball) to not so worried anymore (when it started to come down)."

Brett Gardner and Edwin Encarnacion made weak contact outs after DJ LeMahieu and Aaron Judge started the first inning with back-to-back singles, and Gregorius made the third out when sent a weak chopper to first with the bases loaded. Judge struck out with two runners on base and two outs in the second inning, then Gregorius flew out to right with two on to end the fifth.

"I didn't come through for the team when I had the opportunities," Gregorius said. "Most of the game was on me. I didn't come through, so I was the one that failed, not the whole team."

All told, the Yankees put nine runners on base in the first five innings against Cole, yet went 0 for 6 with runners in scoring position and didn't bring a run home. Cole obviously deserves credit for that. He did not have his best location in Game 3 -- his five walks were a 2019 high -- yet he still shut out the regular season's highest scoring team for seven innings in their building.

"It's obviously a little frustrating we weren't able to break through with him," Boone added. "But I think up and down we gave ourselves a chance. And anytime you're facing a guy like that, you want that kind of traffic. And we had that in several innings. He made big pitches when he had to." 

The Yankees, however, also deserve some blame. Encarnacion had been 0-for-the-ALCS before his fifth inning two-out double with the bases empty. Gary Sanchez has one hit in 13 ALCS at-bats. Gardner, who inexplicably hit third over Gleyber Torres in Game 3, has two hits in the series. The ALCS hitting woes, summarized:

  • Edwin Encarnacion: 1 for 12
  • Brett Gardner: 2 for 14
  • Didi Gregorius: 1 for 12
  • Gary Sanchez: 1 for 13
  • Gio Urshela: 2 for 11

Those five have started all three ALCS games and they are a combined 7 for 62 (.113) in the series. The Astros allowed the fewest runs in the American League during the regular season and you're not going to beat them with five hitters traveling on the interstate. New York's offense at the moment is LeMahieu, Judge, Torres, and hope this is the at-bat one of the other guys snaps out of it.

The Yankees led baseball in batting average (.294), slugging percentage (.518), and OPS (.890) with runners in scoring position during the regular season, and they had their chances against Cole. Only seven times in his 24 starts prior to Game 3 did he allow more than six baserunners. He put nine men on base in Game 3, but the knockout punch never came.

"I actually think the beginning of the game (Cole) had a hard time finding his stuff and finding his tempo, his rhythm," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. "He was still getting through his outing, made some really big pitches, had some pressure on him. Then once he found his curveball it was pretty lights out. I think he finished his outing as strong as ever."

It takes near flawless baseball to beat the Astros. In Game 2 on Sunday, Adam Ottavino hung a slider that George Springer hit for a game-tying home run, turning a possible win against Justin Verlander into an eventual walk-off loss. In Game 3, the Yankees had Cole on the ropes multiple times early, but were unable to capitalize. Flawless baseball that is not.

After a convincing Game 1 win, the Yankees have lost home-field advantage and have put themselves in a position where they'll have to beat Verlander or Cole in Houston win the ALCS. The offense is mostly to blame, but the vaunted bullpen has let one game slip away already, and the rotation is not giving length. The ALCS has been all about missed opportunities for New York.

"How do I expect us to respond? The same way we do every time the whole year. It's the same (game). Just come through with runners in scoring position," Gregorius said. "... We always jump back. We have a really good team. Nothing changes. It's one bad game. Everything goes back to normal soon. Tomorrow's a new game."

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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