Yankees strike early against Astros, stay alive in MLB playoffs

New York (AFP) –


DJ LeMahieu and Aaron Hicks homered as New York rocked star Houston pitcher Justin Verlander for four runs in the first inning Friday in a 4-1 win that kept the Yankees alive in the Major League Baseball playoffs.

The Yankees, whose 40 World Series appearances have yielded 27 championships -- the most recent in 2009 -- pushed the American League Championship Series to a game six in Houston, pulling within 3-2 in the best-of-seven set.

With their backs against the wall, the first five Yankees batters produced four runs against Houston's Cy Young Award candidate Verlander.

LeMahieu led off by lashing a home run to right field.

Aaron Judge then singled sharply and Gleyber Torres followed with a double.

Verlander managed to strike out Giancarlo Stanton, back in the lineup as a designated hitter, but Hicks belted a three-run home run off the right field foul pole.

"I was just trying to get a pitch to hit," said Hicks, who fell behind 0-2 in the count and worked his way back to 3-2. "I was in battle mode right there."

Yankees manager Aaron Boone called the first-inning outburst "just a really good string of at-bats together against obviously Justin, who, probably the best time to hopefully get to him is early."

- 'Great recovery' -

The offensive explosion roused the crowd at Yankee Stadium, who had been quieted when Houston's George Springer scored on a wild pitch from Yankees starting pitcher James Paxton.

All the scoring came in the first inning.

"It was huge to get off to that start," Boone added. "Especially after they scored a run in the first inning. I think it really got our crowd into it even more so. And really Pax took it from there."

Verlander settled in to pitch seven solid innings, surrendering five hits with the four runs and nine strikeouts.

"I thought he recovered great and did his best to continue to keep us in the game, because that was a great recovery after an inning that looked like it was spiraling away from him," said Astros manager AJ Hinch. "The two balls that they hit, unfortunately, went out of the ballpark."

Paxton pitched six strong innings, stranding at least one baserunner in each of his next five frames.

The lefthander scattered four hits and four walks while striking out nine, his 112 pitches the most by any Yankees pitcher this season.

The Astros host game six on Saturday. The quick turnaround comes after weather concerns wiped out play on Wednesday, pushing back games four and five in New York.

Houston, who would also host game seven if necessary on Sunday, are seeking their second World Series title in three years.

Hicks was delighted to be making the trip to Texas in a bid to stop them.

"I don't want to go home," he said. "This is too fun."

The winner of the series will take on the Washington Nationals in Major League Baseball's championship showcase.