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Judge delivers again as Yankees even ALCS

By Larry Fleisher
The Sports Xchange

October 18. 2017 1:28AM
Astros starter Lance McCullers Jr. reacts as Yankees right fielder Aaron Judge rounds the bases on a solo home run during the seventh inning of Tuesday's game four of the 2017 ALCS at Yankee Stadium. (Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports)

NEW YORK -- As their slumps lingered, questions about Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez persisted.

Can they handle the pressure of postseason games? Will they get out of their skids before it is too late?

The New York Yankees found out in a resounding way Tuesday that the kids are all right.

Judge hit the game-tying double with one out in the eighth inning, and Sanchez followed with a two-run double as New York stormed back to even the American League Championship Series at two games apiece with a 6-4 victory over the Houston Astros.

Game 5 of the best-of-seven series is Wednesday, with Yankees starter Masahiro Tanaka opposing Astros ace Dallas Keuchel. Game 6 is Friday in Houston, where the Astros opened the series with two 2-1 victories.

The Yankees get a return trip to Houston thanks to their two young stars, who have experienced productive moments during the team's first extended postseason run since 2012 but also struggled at times.

Judge started play Tuesday 5-for-34 (.147) with 21 strikeouts in his first postseason. After striking out and getting a walk in his first two plate appearances, Judge sparked New York's biggest postseason comeback at home since a rally from a four-run deficit in Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS against the Boston Red Sox, when Aaron Boone homered off Tim Wakefield in the 11th inning for the win.

"It's stressful, but these guys seem to have it under control," Yankees left-hander CC Sabathia said.

Judge made a comeback seem possible by driving the first pitch of the seventh inning from Lance McCullers over the center field fence for his third homer of the postseason. The blast cut Houston's lead to 4-1.

"I thought Aaron's home run lit a spark," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "We've seen that before."

Then the 25-year-old made a comeback seem even more realistic with a booming double off the left field fence against Ken Giles (0-1) to forge a 4-4 deadlock.

Sanchez, who lifted a sacrifice fly in the seventh, came into his at-bat 6-for-40 (.150) in the postseason, hitless in 13 at-bats against the Astros and hitless in his past 18 at-bats.

"It's just a matter of time," Yankees designated hitter Matt Holliday said of Judge and Sanchez producing big postseason moments.

In the eighth, after Judge tied the game, Sanchez produced his biggest hit to date by lacing Giles' 2-0 fastball to the warning track in center field to put the Yankees up 6-4.

"I just think they're very calm and they're very poised," New York's Chase Headley said of Judge and Sanchez. "They're very comfortable with who they are, and they trust who they are is enough, and it is enough."

Upon reaching second, Sanchez clapped his hands emphatically and pointed to a boisterous Yankees dugout, which was joining the crowd in expressing excitement.

"Emotions are raw," Sanchez said through an interpreter. "You're standing on second base and can't even control them."

Chad Green (1-0) pitched two innings and was credited with the win. He gave up an unearned run. Aroldis Chapman fanned two in the ninth for his third save of the postseason.

Giles threw 37 pitches in getting a five-out save in Game 1 but also gave up a home run to Greg Bird before closing it out. He also allowed a homer to Boston's Rafael Devers in Game 4 of the AL Division Series before getting the save.

The right-hander came on trying to get a six-out save but recorded only one out on Brett Gardner's RBI grounder that made it a one-run game.

"They laid off some very good pitches, and they were ready to go," Giles said.

Before Giles collapsed, the Astros seemed poised for a series-clinching game with their ace on the mound. They led by four runs, and McCullers was cruising by keeping the Yankees quiet with his curveball.

The Astros did little offensively before taking a 3-0 lead on a bases-clearing double by Yuli Gurriel off David Robertson in the sixth. They added their fourth run in the seventh when Marwin Gonzalez scored on second baseman Starlin Castro's error.

"The series wasn't over after two games," Houston manager A.J. Hinch said. "It's certainly not over after four."

McCullers allowed one run and two hits in six-plus innings. He was lifted after allowing Judge's homer.

New York's Sonny Gray gave up two runs (one earned) and one hit in five-plus innings. He was lifted after bouncing ball one in the dirt to Jose Altuve, who loaded the bases by working a walk against Robertson.

NOTES: New York manager Joe Girardi said using C Austin Romine in RHP Sonny Gray's simulated game Friday was a precursor to Romine starting Game 4. Romine committed an error that led to a Houston run. ... Asked about the reaction pregame at Yankee Stadium before Game 3, Astros LHP Dallas Keuchel said, "To have some boos last night getting introduced, that was a nice feel. You get boos against the evil empire at the home turf, it makes you feel good just because you're doing your job correctly. ... Houston's left-handed hitters were 0-for-28 in the series until switch-hitting DH Carlos Beltran doubled in the second inning.

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