2015 American League Wild Card Game
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|2015 American League Wild Card Game|
86 - 76 in the AL
|1 - 0
|New York Yankees|
87 - 75 in the AL
The New York Yankees hosted the Houston Astros in the 2015 American League Wild Card Game in an unprecedented postseason match-up. It was the Astros' first postseason action after moving to the American League two years earlier. Behind ace and Cy Young Award candidate Dallas Keuchel, the Astros completely shut down the Yankees' offense, spoiling the postseason debut of Masahiro Tanaka with a pair of solo homers, winning, 3-0.
The Yankees had started off the year strongly and seemed to have built an insurmountable lead at the top of the AL East by the end of July, but they were blindsided by a Toronto Blue Jays team that made a number of bold moves at the trading deadline and caught fire, catching them, passing them, and leaving them six games back when things were said and done. The Yankees played poorly during those last two months, hampered by injuries to various starting pitchers, a season-ending injury to All-Star first baseman Mark Teixeira in early August and another one to 2B Stephen Drew in September. DH Alex Rodriguez slumped badly in the second half, showing the effects of trying to play a full season at age 40 after missing a year. As a result, two raw rookies were now in the starting line-up in 1B Greg Bird and 2B Rob Refsnyder, while their best player down the stretch was probably SS Didi Gregorius, whose main task had been to provide steady defense as Derek Jeter's replacement at shortstop, but who had wielded a welcome potent bat with some of the veterans showing the effects of age. The question of who would start was a big problem for manager Joe Girardi, given the uncertain health and up-and-down performances of most of his starting pitchers, including CC Sabathia, who had checked himself into an alcohol rehabilitation center on the eve of the series and was thus unavailable. He settled on Japanese ace Masahiro Tanaka, even though, he had dealt with health issues all year, hoping that he would be able to put everything together long enough for the outstanding bullpen led by Andrew Miller, Dellin Betances and Justin Wilson to do its work.
The Astros would have been a surprise team in the postseason, except that most experts had seen a turnaround coming - although probably not so soon. They had had three awful seasons from 2011 to 2013, setting a new franchise record for losses each year while switching from the National League to the American League, but had begun to amass a fortune in young talent during that stretch. That began to pay off when they played better in the second half of 2014, although the progress was masked by a front office power struggle that saw the premature departure of manager Bo Porter. Under A.J. Hinch in 2015, however, they started off red hot then cooled down, but managed to stay in front in the AL West until the last few weeks of the season, when they were caught by the Texas Rangers and Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. The Rangers ended up in first, but the Astros were able to finish just ahead of the Angels to reach the Wild Card Game. They were a Jekyll and Hyde team, excellent at home, but terrible on the road (although not at New Yankee Stadium, whose homer-friendly contours suited their style of play), blessed with great front-line starters but an iffy bullpen, able to hit home runs in bunches but striking out at an alarming rate. They also had the youngest starting line-up in the majors. The leaders of the team were 2B Jose Altuve, a spark plug from the lead-off spot, some all-or-nothing sluggers like RF George Springer and 1B Chris Carter, solid regulars like DH Evan Gattis, LF Colby Rasmus and C Jason Castro, and perhaps the most talented young player in the game in 20-year-old SS Carlos Correa. Dallas Keuchel and Collin McHugh made for a solid one-two starting punch, but apart from closer Luke Gregerson, the bullpen was a cause for worry.
|1||Houston Astros 3 New York Yankees 0||October 6||Dallas Keuchel (1-0) Masahiro Tanaka (0-1)||8:00 pm|
Game 1 @ New Yankee Stadium
|WP: Dallas Keuchel (1-0), LP: Masahiro Tanaka (0-1), SV: Luke Gregerson (1)|
|Home Runs: HOU - Colby Rasmus (1), Carlos Gomez (1)|
- Attendance: 50,113
The Astros eliminated the Yankees thanks to a dominating performance by ace Dallas Keuchel, who limited the Yankees to three singles and a walk over 6 innings of outstanding pitching. He had mastered the Yankees all season, and the fact that he was pitching on short rest for the first time of his career did not seem to affect him at all. The depleted New York line-up was unable to mount anything against him, and were even more ineffective against the relievers who succeeded him on the mound. His opponent, Masahiro Tanaka, did not do badly himself, allowing 4 hits and 3 walks over 5 inning, but unfortunately, two of the hits were long balls, and that was enough to give Houston what they needed to win.
Things started off well for Tanaka, as he struck out the first two batters he faced, 2B Jose Altuve and RF George Springer on his way to a perfect 1st inning. Keuchel also started off with a lead-off strikeout, of CF Brett Gardner; he then walked LF Chris Young but got RF Carlos Beltran on a ground out and struck out DH Alex Rodriguez to indicate that he too would be a tough customer. However, the game turned on the next batter as LF Colby Rasmus led off the top of the 2nd with a homer to right. The Yankees would not be able to recover. After a couple of outs, Tanaka loaded the bases with a single and a pair of walks,but Altuve grounded into a force out to end the threat. The Astros threatened again in the 3rd when Springer led off the frame with a double, but he could not advance any further. Meanwhile, Keuchel was mowing down the Yankees, a two-out single by 1B Greg Bird in the 2nd being the only other baserunner he allowed over the first three innings.
The Astros doubled their lead in the 4th on another lead-off, this one by CF Carlos Gomez, to center field. Gomez was starting his first game since September 12th, having been sidelined by a pulled muscle. Tanaka then walked 1B Chris Carter with one out, but he was erased on double play grounder by C Jason Castro. Justin Wilson took over for Tanaka in the 6th and got DH Evan Gattis to ground into a double play after a lead-off walk to Rasmus, then SS Didi Gregorius singled to lead off the bottom of the inning for only New York's second hit of the game. Keuchel struck out Gardner and got Young to force out Gregorius, so that when Beltran singled, Young could only advance to second base, and both runners were stranded when Rodriguez flied out to center on the next pitch.
In the 7th, Wilson retired the lead-off batter, 3B Luis Valbuena, then gave way to Dellin Betances. The usually spotless set-up man quickly issued Carter his third free pass of the contest, however, and pinch-runner Jonathan Villar stole second base when Castro struck out. That put him in scoring position for Altuve, who singled to left, increasing the lead to 3-0. Altuve, the American League stolen base leader, stole second base in turn, but he was stranded when Springer grounded out. Things were getting desperate for the Yankees, though, with Tony Sipp now pitching in place of Keuchel. He retired the Yankees without any damage even if he issued a walk to 3B Chase Headley. Betances struck out the side in the top of the 8th, but it was now moot, as the Yankees needed runs, and were unable to come by them. Will Harris took the mound for the 8th, and he got the Yankees in order, with Jacoby Ellsbury pinch-hitting for Young for the third out. Andrew Miller retired the Astros in the 9th, picking up two more strikeouts and closer Luke Gregerson came in to finish things off. Flashing a nasty slider, he needed only 7 pitches to strike out Beltran and Rodriguez, then Brian McCann hit a weak grounded to rookie SS Carlos Correa and the game was over, The young Astros were moving on to the Division Series.
- Paul Hagen: "Astros, Yanks turn to aces in Wild Card Game", mlb.com, October 6, 2015. 
- Joe Lemire: "Dallas Keuchel, Astros look like playoff vets in eliminating Yankees", USA Today Sports, October 7, 2015. 
|Major League Baseball Wild Card Game|