Yankees fall apart in ninth, blow five-run lead to drop first-half finale to Astros

Jose Altuve Yankees
Houston Astros second baseman Jose Altuve (27, right) is congratulated by Houston Astros designated hitter Michael Brantley (23) after hitting a walkoff three run home run against the New York Yankees during the ninth inning at Minute Maid Park.
Erik Williams-USA TODAY Sports

It all seemed a little too perfect for the Yankees entering the ninth inning of Sunday’s proverbial first-half finale against the Houston Astros.

They were up 7-2 heading into the bottom half of the final frame in Houston and on the cusp of sweeping the sign-stealing Astros and winning their sixth of seven games to move to five games over .500 — which could have provided some good feelings following a disappointing first three months of the 2021 season. 

But then Domingo German faltered and Chad Green imploded as the Astros scored six runs in the ninth inning to lift Houston to an 8-7 victory, capped off by a Jose Altuve walk-off three-run home run to spoil any goodwill gained over the previous week.

It just so happened that this was the Yankees’ first series back in Minute Maid Park since Altuve’s controversial, clutching-his-shirt-closed, walk-off home run in Game 6 of the 2019 ALCS that added further fuel to the sign-stealing fires from 2017 that rocked the baseball world.

Gary Sanchez looked as though he provided the exclamation point of the series with a three-run home run in the eighth inning to put the Yankees up five, pretending to close his shirt as teammate Aaron Judge did in jest earlier in the series to continue their call-out of the Astros.

But it only seemed to light a fire under the home team as Yuli Gurriel led the ninth off with a single and moved to third on Kyle Tucker’s double, which prompted Aaron Boone to pull German.

In stepped Green, who allowed doubles to Chas McCormick and Abraham Toro to make it a 7-5 game. 

After a Jason Castro single, Altuve deposited a 1-1 pitch into the left-field seats — to which the Astros star ripped off his shirt to show the Yankees that he had nothing to hide. 

The Yankees took advantage of disorganized Houston defense when Sanchez — who led the third inning with a walk — advanced to a second on a wild pitch and scored from there after a fielding error from Robel Garcia at shortstop.

Astros catcher Martin Maldonado quickly answered in the bottom of the frame with an opposite-field home run down the right-field line of Yankees starter Jamison Taillon — and raised some eyebrows while rounding the bases. After touching the third-base bag, Maldonado pulled down his shirt collar in response to Judge’s initial antics.

But Houston’s rebuttal was quickly thwarted in the fourth inning when Tim Locastro hit his first home run as a Yankee after he was acquired from the Diamondbacks on July 1 to put New York up 2-1.

Gleyber Torres put the Yankees up two with an RBI single in the fifth, but it was canceled out by Kyle Tucker’s 15th home run of the season an inning later.

The two solo shots were all that Taillon would yield on Sunday as he put together six strong innings, allowing those two runs on three hits with four strikeouts.

Gio Urshela a fourth Yankees run with an RBI single in the seventh before Sanchez seemingly put the Yankees in the driver’s seat with a no-doubt bomb to left field in the eighth before New York’s wheels fell off.