Sabathia, Yanks come apart as Astros push them to brink

RONALD BLUM (AP Baseball Writer)
The Associated Press

NEW YORK (AP) -- CC Sabathia threw a cutter to George Springer and grimaced from the pain in his left shoulder, then covered his face with his glove as he walked to the dugout after what was likely the final pitch of his career.

Three-time Gold Glove winner DJ LeMahieu had the first two-error game of his big league career. Also a pair of miscues by Gleyber Torres .

Gary Sanchez, Torres and Edwin Encarnacion all struck out with the bases loaded, letting Zack Greinke and Ryan Pressly escape.

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The Bronx Bombers have gone bust against Houston, and now they're on the brink.

Houston's 8-3 victory over the listless, sloppy Yankees on Thursday night gave the Astros a 3-1 advantage in the best-of-seven AL Championship Series.

And now the Yankees face Justin Verlander in Game 5 on Friday night as they try to avoid what would be their first calendar decade without a World Series appearance since the 1910s.

''We played poorly tonight. There's no other way to explain it,'' manager Aaron Boone said after addressing the team in a postgame meeting. ''We need to flush this immediately.''

Sabathia relieved in the eighth inning, knowing the end was near to a 19-season career that included a 251-161 regular-season record with 3,093 strikeouts. After four stints on the injured list this year caused by his balky right knee, the 39-year-old left-hander craved one last October in the limelight, moving to the bullpen.

But his body gave out on his 20th pitch, a metaphor for the entire team against the Astros so far. He walked off the mound toward second, spoke with head athletic trainer Steve Donahue and tried a warmup toss, hoping somehow to push through, but he had to leave.

Even Houston's Gerrit Cole and George Springer joined in the applause as fans gave Sabathia limped off a standing ovation. When he reached the dugout, his face contorted, Sabathia took four steps down toward the clubhouse, then sat near the bottom, his back to the field, as Donahue tried to console him.

''Every single time he went out there, you had to rip the ball or his jersey off to get him off that mound,'' Yankees slugger Aaron Judge said. ''He got everything out of that arm. That's a warrior right there.''

Boone said Sabathia could be replaced on the roster Friday, making him ineligible even should the Yankees come back and advance.

''It stinks,'' reliever Zack Britton said. ''It's heartbreaking to watch him leave the field like that. I know how much pain he was in.''

Hitting, pitching and fielding all went poof!

New York had not lost consecutive home games to the same opponent since early April, had not made four errors in a postseason game since 1976 - and never before in the Bronx. Some of the fans who remained in a mostly empty Yankee Stadium applauded sarcastically when shortstop Didi Gregorius caught an infield popup in the ninth.

Earlier, New York also threw a pair of wild pitches.

During the regular season, the Yankees led the major leagues with a .294 batting average with runners in scoring position. In the ALCS, they haven't scored on a hit other than a home run since the opener.

New York was 0 for 7 with runners in scoring position, dropping to 4 for 27 in the four games - including 1 for 16 in the three straight losses. The Yankees stranded 10 runners, increasing their series total to 33. They struck out 13 times, giving them 43 in the series.

This game started to turn in the first inning, when Sanchez fanned on a low slider from the erratic Greinke as New York failed to build on its 1-0 lead following Brett Gardner's bases-loaded walk. With the Yankees trailing 3-1 in the fifth and the bases full again, Torres struck out on a checked swing on an outside slider in rhe dirt from Pressly, and Encarnacion swung over a fastball , ending the inning.

Win by the homer, lose by the homer.

New York's 306 long balls during the regular season were second to Minnesota's big league record of 307. The Yankees led the majors with 943 runs, and were fourth in percentage of runs scored on homers at 51.1, trailing only Toronto (53.2), Milwaukee (51.5) and Minnesota (51.2).

Boone repeatedly maintained he was unconcerned about the power reliance. New York has plated eight of its 13 runs against the Astros on five homers, two-run drives by Judge and Sanchez, a pair of solo shots by Torres and bases-empty pokes by Giancarlo Stanton and Gio Urshela.

After thriving despite 30 players going on the injured list, the aches have become too onerous, players struggling in their return from late-season injuries.

Encarnacion is 1 for 15 with eight strikeouts, Sanchez 2 for 17 with eight strikeouts, Gregorius 2 for 16, Urshela 2 for 15 and Aaron Hicks 1 for 6 with three strikeouts.

After the best regular season at the plate of his career, Gardner is 2 for 15 with seven strikeouts.

Now time is short.

James Paxton takes the mound Friday after getting just seven outs in Game 2, hoping to avoid what would be just the third four-game losing streak for New York this season. The Yankees' 103 regular-season wins, their most in a decade, may not amount to much.

''I've got to step up,'' Judge said. ''Everybody's got to step up.''

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