HOUSTON — For one game at least, the Yankees didn’t miss the ninth-inning heat of reliever Aroldis Chapman, who was traded to the Cubs Monday. Starter Michael Pineda surrendered a leadoff home run but that was all in a superb seven-inning outing, and relievers Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller preserved a 2-1 Yankees win just as they did all last season.
The win put the Yankees a season-high three games above .500 (51-48). Pineda (5-9) gave up five hits and struck out eight. Betances struck out the side in the Astros’ eighth, and Miller got a double-play grounder in the ninth to get out of a jam.
The pregame focus revolved around the trade of Chapman to the Cubs, but general manager Brian Cashman said the Yankees were “dealing from strength” and simply reverting to last season’s finishing bullpen combination of Betances in the eighth and Miller to close. Manager Joe Girardi welcomed the addition of reliever Adam Warren, who was with the Yankees last season and figures to add flexibility when he arrives tonight.
The series opener evolved into a pitching duel between Astros starter Dallas Keuchel, who beat the Yankees in last year’s wild-card playoff game and in the opener this year, and Pineda. After Pineda gave up a leadoff home run to George Springer on a 94 mile-per-hour first-pitch fastball, it seemed he might be in for a long night.
But Pineda matched zeros with Kuechel, who gave up one hit and faced the minimum number of batters through four innings. In the top of the fifth, the Yankees tied the score at 1 on a two-out double by Didi Gregorious, who scored on a bloop single by Chase Headley.
At one stretch, Pineda fanned five of six Astros he faced, including the first two batters in the sixth. But Jose Altuve beat out an infield single, and walks to Carlos Correa and Luis Valbuena loaded the bases for third baseman Alex Bregman in his major-league debut. Bregman is ESPN’s No. 1 major league prospect, and he lofted a long fly to right that had the crowd on its feet before falling at the warning track for the third out.
The Yankees have been resilient lately, and it showed in the top of the eighth when Headley led off with a single and scored on a double by Austin Romine to take a 2-1 lead. Kuechel got two outs before giving way to Luke Gregerson, who got pinch-hitter Brent Gardner to fly out.
Just as Cashman predicted, the back end of the Yankees’ bullpen remains formidable.