Yankees vs. Astros score, takeaways: Houston heads back to World Series as New York's season ends with sweep

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NEW YORK -- For the fourth time in the last six years, the Houston Astros are American League champions. Sunday night the Astros finished their authoritative ALCS sweep of the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium (HOU 6, NYY 5). It is the third time in the last six years and the fourth time in the last eight years the Astros have eliminated the Yankees in the postseason.

The Astros were unable to stifle the Yankees' offense like Games 1-3, and instead had to rally from early 3-0 deficit in Game 4. Starter Lance McCullers Jr. bent but did not entirely break, and the Astros hung around long enough until they could capitalize on another defensive miscue by the Yankees. Houston outscored the Yankees 18-9 in the four games.

The Philadelphia Phillies dispatched the San Diego Padres in Game 5 of the NLCS earlier Sunday, so the World Series matchup is set. It's Astros vs. Phillies beginning Friday, Oct. 28, in Houston. Here are five takeaways from Sunday's Game 4.

1. The Yankees struck first

Five batters into Game 4, the Yankees matched their hit total from Game 3. Harrison Bader opened the inning with a single to center, Anthony Rizzo took a pitch to the toe, then Giancarlo Stanton laced an RBI single to right. Gleyber Torres drove in a second run with a bloop into no-man's land in shallow right-center, giving the Yankees a 2-0 lead. Three hits in the first inning of Game 4 after three hits in Game 3.

New York added a third run in the second inning, when Rizzo poked a grounder just out of Alex Bregman's reach at third base. The two-out hit drove in Isiah Kiner-Falefa, who doubled to begin the inning. The Yankees were in danger of wasting that leadoff double before Rizzo came through. He was New York's steadiest hitter in the postseason.

Prior to the early 3-0 lead in Game 4, the Yankees had not held a lead in the ALCS since Bader's second inning solo home run in Game 1. That lead lasted six batters. In fact, the Yankees and Astros had played 10 games this year prior to Game 4, and those were the only six batters to come to the plate with New York leading. (Their two regular seasons wins over Houston were walk-offs.)

2. Cortes got hurt and gave up the lead

Something clearly was not right with Nestor Cortes in the third inning. His command wavered in the first and second innings, but he puts zeroes on the scoreboard, then he opened the third inning with back-to-back walks. Not only was his command faltering, but Cortes lost velocity off his fastball. This is a red flag:

Manager Aaron Boone and the trainer came out to talk to Cortes and it was a quick chat. Cortes told them he was fine, he stayed in the game, then a few pitches later he served up a game-tying three-run home run to Jeremy Peña. Just like that, New York's 3-0 lead was gone and Cortes was out of the game after another visit from Boone and the trainer. The Yankees say it's a left groin injury, and during an in-game interview with TBS, Boone said Cortes had dealt with it since his first start of the postseason.

Needless to say, sticking with an injured pitcher -- the Yankees have access to the same live velocity data as us and they surely knew Cortes' heater was down, and that he wasn't locating -- in a win-or-go-home game was a questionable decision at best. Of course the player is going to say he's healthy and can remain in the game. They all do. It's on the manager and trainers to do more than listen to the player and make the best decision for the team, and Boone didn't by leaving Cortes in.

Anyway, with the score tied and the season on the line, the Yankees went to lefty Wandy Peralta, one of their trusted high leverage arms. It was only the third inning, but the middle of the order was due up, and it was no time to play around with lesser relievers. Alas and alack, Peralta allowed hits to three of the next four batters, and the Astros took a 4-3 lead. One of the three was a comebacker that hit him in the right wrist, just above the glove.

Cortes missed about three weeks with the same injury at the end of August and start of September. The Yankees have no more games to play, but losing Cortes would have been a devastating blow had they kept their season alive. It's also good news that it's not an arm injury. That would have been a rough way for the man they call Nasty Nestor to end his breakout season.

3. Rizzo and Bader gave the Yankees another lead

The Yankees did not go away quietly after blowing the 3-0 lead and falling behind 4-3. In the fourth, Bader and Rizzo built a run with a single, a passed ball, and another single to tie the game. Then, in the sixth, Bader broke the tie and gave the Yankees a 5-4 lead with a long and loud solo home run to left field. To the action footage:

That was Bader's fifth homer of the postseason. He had five homers in 86 regular-season games, all with the Cardinals before being traded to the Yankees at the deadline. The five homers tie him for the fourth most by a Yankee in a single postseason. Only Bernie Williams (1996), Alex Rodriguez (2009), and Giancarlo Stanton (2020) had more. They each had six. Williams threw out the ceremonial first pitch prior to Game 4, coincidentally enough.

Bader and Rizzo went 5 for 8 in Game 5. The rest of the Yankees went 1 for 28. It's not saying much, but those two led the charge for the Yankees offensively for the Yankees in the ALCS. They just had little to no help. Two players won't win you a postseason series, especially against a team like Houston.

4. The Yankees made another crucial error

You have to play nearly flawless baseball to beat the Astros and the Yankees have done anything but. In Game 4, Bader and Aaron Judge miscommunicated on a routine fly ball, turning an easy out into a baserunner. The next batter hit a two-run home run to give the Astros a 2-0 lead and all the runs they would need. 

The Game 5 misplay was even more damaging. After Jose Altuve beat out an infield single to put the tying run on base with one out in the seventh, Peña rolled a potential 4-6-3 double play grounder, but the Yankees instead turned it into zero outs. Gleyber Torres rushed the feed to second base and Kiner-Falefa came across the bag awkwardly and couldn't make the catch. Torres got the error but both guys screwed up. The feed was rushed but on the bag, and still no out was made.

Naturally, the Astros tied the game on the very next pitch. Yordan Alvarez rolled a grounder through the right side of the infield to knot things up at 5-5, then Bregman lined a single to right to give the Astros a 6-5 lead. Giving Houston four outs in an inning -- the Yankees essentially gave them five outs that inning -- is a good way to lose a series.

Jonathan Loáisiga did hero's work before being betrayed by his defense, retiring seven of the eight batters he faced without a ball leaving the infield. The only baserunner allowed was Altuve's infield single, which had to be reviewed because it was so close. The Astros bullpen allowed just the Bader homer in four otherwise spotless innings. The final 10 Yankees to bat after Bader's homer made outs. And that's a wrap on the 2022 Yankees.

5. Up next

The World Series. It will be Astros vs. Phillies when the Fall Classic begins Friday, Oct. 28, in Houston. We have to wait four baseball-less days until then. Presumably Justin Verlander (18-4, 1.75 ERA) and Aaron Nola (11-13, 3.25 ERA) will get the ball in Game 1, though the Phillies could bring NLCS Game starter Zack Wheeler (12-7, 2.82 ERA) back on normal rest.

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Dusty Baker

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It'll be Phillies vs. Astros in the 2022 World Series

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One out away

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October 24, 2022, 4:07 AM
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Going into the bottom of the ninth

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October 24, 2022, 4:03 AM
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Potentially a big double play by the Yankees in the top of the ninth

Here it is: 

October 24, 2022, 4:01 AM
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Down to three outs

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October 24, 2022, 4:01 AM
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Donaldson in this ALCS

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Also, if the Astros win

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