NEW YORK — There was already a playoff atmosphere when the much-anticipated opener of a four-game series between the Astros and Yankees got underway on Thursday night at Yankee Stadium.
The fans in the stands had the juice. They were cheering loudly for the Yankees, while jeering the Astros. They didn’t forget the sign-stealing scandal that accompanied the Astros’ World Series title in 2017 — after all, they had beaten the Yanks in the American League Championship Series to advance to the Fall Classic that year.
Loud boos were heard — directed primarily toward two stars of that ’17 Astros team in Jose Altuve and Alex Bregman.
It was the 21st comeback victory and ninth walk-off win of the season for the Yankees, who also won their 15th consecutive game at home. The Bronx Bombers improved their record to 52-18, the best record in the Major Leagues.
“We don’t like to lose,” Hicks said. “We are a team that is going to keep fighting until the last out is made. We believe we still have a chance.”
In a game that had already seen a trio of three-run home runs — Bregman and Yordan Alvarez for Houston and Giancarlo Stanton for New York — the Astros went to Ryan Pressly to close it out in the ninth inning.
Yankees manager Aaron Boone knows all to well there isn’t any quit in his club. And just like in so many past games, the Yanks found a way to win against one of the best closers in the American League.
“It was a good level of focus, I felt, on our bench. Let’s go have good at-bats,” Boone said. “That was the mindset. There was a calm and a resolve and energy, certainly. But I would say the opposite of emotional. It’s just, ‘Let’s go grind this thing out and have good at-bats.’”
Maybe Judge said it best. The Yankees don’t show their emotions when the game is on the line in the ninth inning.
“You saw up and down our lineup guys working the at-bat, the moment not getting too big for guys,” he said. “It’s just believing in each other.”
The Yankees grinded it out, all right. After Pressly walked Stanton and Gleyber Torres to start the inning, Hicks clubbed a 1-2 fastball over the right-field wall to tie the game at 6. You talk about injecting life into the stadium. The crowd, especially the bleachers, erupted and the home dugout went bananas.
“When you have the crowd behind you like that, rooting for you, you come up big for them, it’s huge. It gets the team going,” Hicks said. “Having the fans being that excited, it’s fun playing.”
Pressly continued to have problems getting outs. Isiah Kiner-Falefa followed and reached base on an infield single, but he was thrown out trying to steal second. Jose Trevino came to the plate and singled to center field. Pressly was then taken out of the game in favor of Ryne Stanek, who struck out Joey Gallo and walked DJ LeMahieu before allowing Judge’s game-winning hit.
“Just some great winning at-bats, what huge swings by both Aarons,” Boone said. “It’s a pretty special game for June.”
Judge’s game-winning hit came a day before he is scheduled to have his arbitration hearing. Hicks certainly wants to see Judge, who will be a free agent after this season, remain with the team long term.
“Of course, we want Judgey on our team,” Hicks said. “He is a huge part of our team. We hope for the best for our guys. … We want him here as a Yankee, and we know Yankee fans do, too.”
Judge declined to comment.
“We’ll talk after [the hearing],” Judge said.
Astros manager Dusty Baker saw his team unravel before his eyes in that fateful ninth inning.
“It was a tough one to lose, especially here because we played such a good game tonight,” Baker said. “We got some guys who swung a lot better, guys are getting better. It’s a tough one to swallow, but that’s baseball. You’ve got to swallow it whether you like it or not.”