For the third time in the last six years, the Houston Astros and New York Yankees will meet in the ALCS. The Astros swept the Seattle Mariners in the ALDS while the Yankees went the full five games against the Cleveland Guardians. Game 5 was Tuesday evening at Yankee Stadium. Game 1 of the ALCS is Wednesday night at Minute Maid Park. It's a quick turnaround.
"The challenge is we're facing a great team," Yankees manager Aaron Boone said after New York's Game 5 win. "As far as the quick turnaround, we'll be fine. I mean, that's baseball. We do that all the time. You know, we'll walk in there with some confidence. We know they are great team and rested and ready. We look forward to the challenge."
The Yankees and Astros have built up quite a rivalry in recent years even though Houston played in the National League until 2012. It's been a one-sided rivalry -- the Astros keep getting the best of the Yankees -- and it's been a clean rivalry in the sense that these teams aren't throwing at each other each time they play. Make no mistake though, there's no love lost.
So, with yet another Yankees vs. Astros ALCS upon us, let's take a second to look back at their recent rivalry and everything that led up to this series.
June 11, 2003: Astros no-hit Yankees
The last no-hitter thrown at the old Yankees Stadium featured six Astros pitchers -- Roy Oswalt, Pete Munro, Kirk Saarloos, Brad Lidge, Octavio Dotel, Billy Wager -- combining to blank the Yankees in the Bronx. Oswalt exited after one inning with a groin injury and every reliever Houston brought in was better than the guy he replaced.
"This is one of the worst games I've ever been involved in," Yankees manager Joe Torre told the Associated Press. "It was a total, inexcusable performance."
The Yankees had gone 6,980 games without being no-hit, the longest streak in baseball history. The six pitchers are still the record for a combined no-hitter, and while this game didn't contribute to the recent rivalry between the two clubs, it happened, and it was historic. And we'll have a call back to it a little later.
2015 AL Wild Card Game
After losing 106 games in 2011, the Astros hired Jeff Luhnow to run their baseball operations that December, and under Luhnow they embarked on a scorched-earth rebuild that saw the club lose 107 games in 2012 and 111 games in 2013. All those losses gave them three consecutive No. 1 draft picks and five top-five picks in a four-year span from 2012-15.
Signs of progress first showed in 2014, when the Astros improved by 19 wins (but still lost 92 games), then they made the jump back into contention in 2015. That year the Astros went 86-76 and qualified for the postseason for the first time since 2005. They were the second wild-card team and went to Yankee Stadium to face the Yankees.
Dallas Keuchel held the Yankees to three singles in six scoreless innings while working on short rest. Colby Rasmus and Carlos Gomez swatted solo homers, and the Astros sent the Yankees home for the offseason with a 3-0 win. "Nobody really gave us anything at the start of the year. And I don't think anybody gave us a shot at the end of the year," Keuchel said after the game.
That was the first of what will now be four matchups between the Yankees and Astros in the last eight postseasons. Houston lost the ALDS to the eventual World Series champion Kansas City Royals in five games, though 2015 and their Wild Card Game win marked their arrival as an American League power.
The Yankees faded badly down the stretch in 2015 -- they went 29-31 in their final 60 regular season games before the Wild Card Game loss to the Astros -- and it continued into 2016, so much so that they sold at the trade deadline. Carlos Beltrán, Aroldis Chapman, Andrew Miller, and Iván Nova were sent away in trades that brought Gleyber Torres to New York, among others.
Thanks in part to those trades, as well as the emergence of Aaron Judge and Luis Severino, the Yankees quickly returned to contention in 2017. The Astros stumbled a bit and missed the postseason in 2016, though they won 101 games in 2017, and they ran into the Yankees in the postseason for second time in three years. This time the two clubs met in the ALCS.
The ALCS went the full seven games and the home team won all seven. The Astros took Games 1 and 2 in Houston, the Yankees won Games 3-5 in New York to move to within a win of the World Series, then the Astros won Games 6 and 7 at Minute Maid Park to clinch the second pennant in franchise history. The Yankees scored three runs in the four games in Houston.
"It's something special, man," then-Astros shortstop Carlos Correa told MLB.com after Game 7. "It's like, 'We're going to the World Series.' It's something you think of and dream of as a little kid, and now it's real."
The Astros went on to beat the Los Angeles Dodgers in seven games to capture Houston's first ever World Series championship. Once the offseason began, the Yankees brought in reigning NL MVP Giancarlo Stanton in a salary-dump trade, among other moves. At that point, it was pretty obvious the Astros and Yankees were in position to contend for many years to come.
Thanks to New York's ALDS loss to the eventual World Series champion Boston Red Sox, the Yankees and Astros did not meet in the 2018 postseason. They hooked up again in the 2019 ALCS though. The Astros beat the Tampa Bay Rays in five games in the ALDS while the Yankees swept the Minnesota Twins to advance. It was Yankees vs. Astros for the third time in five postseasons.
The Yankees took Game 1 in blowout fashion behind Masahiro Tanaka, then the Astros took Games 2-4 to move to within one win of their second pennant in three years. New York forced a Game 6 in Houston and wow was the ninth inning eventful. DJ LeMahieu clubbed a game-tying two-run homer, then Jose Altuve sent the Astros to the World Series with a walk-off homer against Chapman.
"We're not going to the World Series because of me. We're going to the World Series because of everybody inside of the clubhouse," Altuve, the ALCS MVP, told MLB.com after the walk-off homer. "... You make sure the ball is gone before you celebrate. Then I'm thinking, 'We're going to the World Series.'"
The Astros went to the World Series but lost in seven games to the Washington Nationals. That offseason the Yankees signed Gerrit Cole, the reigning AL Cy Young runner-up, away from Houston with a pitcher record $324 million contract. That was the start of the Astros transitioning to a new core as players became free agents -- George Springer left after 2020 and Correa after 2021.
The sign-stealing scandal
The 2019 World Series ended on Oct. 30 and, two weeks later, it was reported the Astros used video equipment to illegally steal signs during their 2017 championship season. Right-hander Mike Fiers, who led the 2017 Astros in innings pitched during the regular season, came forward and spoke about Houston's sign-stealing scheme on the record.
"I just want the game to be cleaned up a little bit because there are guys who are losing their jobs because they're going in there not knowing," Fiers said. "Young guys getting hit around in the first couple of innings starting a game, and then they get sent down. It's (B.S.) on that end. It's ruining jobs for younger guys. The guys who know are more prepared. But most people don't. That's why I told my team. We had a lot of young guys with Detroit (in 2018) trying to make a name and establish themselves. I wanted to help them out and say, 'Hey, this stuff really does go on. Just be prepared.'"
MLB immediately launched an investigation into Fiers' claims and, two months later, commissioner Rob Manfred released a nine-page reported detailing the league's findings. Through interviews and reviews of texts, emails, etc., MLB found the Astros stole signs illegally in 2017 (including during the postseason) and 2018. Most notably, the team decoded signs using video equipment and relayed them to the hitter in real time by banging on a trash can near the dugout. Here are the penalties assessed:
- Manager A.J. Hinch suspended for one year. Hinch was then fired by the Astros.
- GM Jeff Luhnow suspended for one year. Luhnow was then fired by the Astros.
- Former assistant GM Brandon Taubman suspended one year.
- Astros forfeit their first- and second-round draft picks in 2020 and 2021.
- Astros fined $5 million, the maximum allowed under MLB's constitution.
Several players with other teams, most notably Dodgers players who were part of the 2017 team that lost the World Series to the Astros, ripped Houston and their players publicly. Yankees personnel spoke out as well.
"I just don't think it holds any value with me. You cheated and you didn't earn it," Judge told ESPN about Houston's 2017 World Series win shortly after Manfred's report was released. "It wasn't earned the way of playing the game right and fighting to the end. The biggest thing about competition is laying it all out on the line, and whoever's the better player, better person, comes out on top. And to know that another team had an advantage -- nothing that you can really guard against -- I just don't feel like that's earned."
The Yankees and Astros did not play in 2020 because of the regional schedule during the 60-game pandemic season, and even if they did play, there wouldn't have been any fans in the stands. When the Astros eventually did return to Yankee Stadium in 2021, the crowd let them have it. I've heard plenty of boos in my days, but never anything quite as vicious as Yankee Stadium that day.
The boos and "cheater!" chants were as loud in 2022 and they were in 2021, and "F--- Altuve!" chants broke out briefly in the ninth inning of Game 5 on Tuesday night, when the Yankees were on the verge of punching their ticket to the ALCS to face Houston. I imagine the booing will be cranked up to another level during the ALCS.
The Yankees, it should be noted, were found to have used video equipment to steal signs in 2015 and early in 2016. Their scheme involved used video equipment to decode signs so a runner at second base could then relay them to the hitter. The Yankees were fined $100,000, with the money going to Hurricane Irma relief.
2022 season series
The regular-season series between these two teams was extremely one-sided this year. The Astros won five of seven games and the Yankees did not take a single at-bat with a lead -- their two wins came on Judge walk-off hits. Also, the Astros threw a combined no-hitter on June 25. Cristian Javier, Hector Neris, and Ryan Pressly did the honors. It was the first time the Yankees had been no-hit since they were last no-hit by Houston in 2003.
"To do it in New York, it's the best feeling in the world," Pressly said after the game (per the New York Post). The Astros threw the last no-hitter at the old Yankee Stadium and the first no-hitter at the new Yankee Stadium.
At one point in that June series the Astros held the Yankees hitless for 16 consecutive innings, tied for the longest hitless streak in the Expansion Era (since 1961) with the 1973 Oakland Athletics and 1981 Dodgers. Plot twist: the 1973 A's and 1981 Dodgers won the World Series. Good omen for the Yankees? They hope so. They'll try again to slay the Astros dragon in this year's ALCS while Houston looks to win their third pennant in the last six years.