The New York Yankees and Houston Astros spent the first half ascending to the top two records in the American League and their first five meetings created the perception both will be getting together sometime in October to decide the AL pennant.
The top teams in the AL reconvene Thursday for the final time in the regular season when the Yankees visit the Astros for a day-night doubleheader that was needed because of the MLB lockout.
The Astros are 3-2 through the first five meetings with both losses coming via walk-offs in games they never trailed until the final pitch. Houston also is 4 1/2 games behind the Yankees in the race for the AL's top record.
New York had six All-Stars in Tuesday's midsummer showcase, including Giancarlo Stanton, whose two-run homer earned him MVP honors when the AL claimed a 3-2 victory. Aaron Judge also heads to Houston looking to continue his pursuit of Roger Maris' 1961 franchise record after the center fielder hit 33 homers in 89 games during the first half.
The Yankees are also seeking to maintain the type of performances they displayed in the final two games before the break. After dropping five of six, New York ended the first half by outscoring the Boston Red Sox 27-3 to give them 64 wins -- the most in team history before the All-Star break.
"It's pretty big; it's pretty cool," New York ace Gerrit Cole said. "But we have bigger goals. We have a lot more baseball to play, so we're trying to keep it in perspective, in that regard."
Houston ended the first half by winning 23 times in 32 games. The Astros ended the first half by dropping two of three at home to Oakland when it allowed the tiebreaking run in the eighth inning of a 4-3 loss Sunday.
"It was a tough one to lose," Houston manager Dusty Baker said. "We wanted to go into the break on a positive, and now, we don't have much choice other than to regroup and get it back together when we start against the Yankees."
The Astros, who lead the AL with a 2.98 ERA, announced Cristian Javier (6-5, 3.22 ERA)) and Luis Garcia (7-5, 3.65) will start Thursday.
Javier is facing the Yankees for the second time this year and hoping to duplicate his historic start in New York on June 25. In his last outing against the Yankees, Javier struck out 13 in seven innings and combined with Hector Neris and Ryan Pressly on a no-hitter.
In three subsequent starts since no-hitting the Yankees, Javier is 1-2 with a 5.17 ERA. He followed up the no-hitter by fanning 14 and allowing one hit and one run to the Los Angeles Angels on July 1 but has allowed eight runs in 8 2/3 innings in his last two starts.
Garcia did not pitch in Yankee Stadium when the teams split a four-game series but allowed one run on three hits in 5 1/3 innings of Houston's 2-1 win on June 30. He followed up that start by allowing five runs in 6 1/3 innings against Kansas City on July 5 and one run on one hit in six innings July 12 against the Los Angeles Angels.
The Yankees did name their starters for Thursday, although Jordan Montgomery and Jameson Taillon pitched last Friday and Saturday against Boston.
--Field Level Media
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