Freak home runs stun Astros, get New York back in ALCS
Todd Frazier called it an “unorthodox swing.’’ A.J. Hinch described it as an “awkward swing.’’
More precisely, it was a Yankee Stadium swing.
Only two major league ballparks yielded more home runs this season than the New York Yankees’ home field, where they banged out 140 of their big league-leading 241. Frazier didn’t join the club until July 19, but it didn’t take him long to find the stadium’s sweet spot in right field.
That’s exactly where he directed a three-run shot Monday that set the Yankees on course for an 8-1 victory over the Houston Astros in Game 3 of the American League Championship Series, which might have just changed direction.
New York had lost the first two games by 2-1 scores and badly needed to revive a moribund offense that came in batting .200 for the series. Frazier accomplished that with a second-inning swing that was, well, not exactly cribbed from Ted Williams’ The Science of Hitting.
Reaching out for Charlie Morton’s 95 mph fastball on the outside and looking off-balance, Frazier still barreled the ball and sent it on a line over the right-field fence, a 365-foot drive that put the Yankees on top 3-0 while electrifying their fans and dugout. With one swing, they had scored one more run than in the previous two games combined.
“You don’t think it’s going just because of how unorthodox the swing was,’’ said Frazier, who hit 11 of his 27 homers for New York after coming over in a trade with the Chicago White Sox. “Guys throw really hard now. All you have to do is square it up in the right fashion, and that’s what I did.’’
So did Aaron Judge, who shook off his postseason slump – 19 strikeouts in 31 at-bats – by rifling a three-run homer that capped the Yankees’ five-run fourth, putting an end to any suspense in the game.
Judge’s shot to left field wasn’t exactly one of those majestic drives that became his trademark during a season when he set a rookie record with 52. The homer cut through the wind on a chilly night and traveled 371 feet into the first row of the bleachers, but it did follow one trend from the season. New York’s 39 three-run homers were five more than any other team had.
Of course, it helps to play half your games in a stadium rated by ESPN’s Ballpark Factors as the second most generous in the majors for the long ball.
The Astros’ Minute Maid Park rates right in the middle, so watching Frazier’s ball sail into the seats left some of them dumbfounded.
“If you were to show me a video of his swing, the pitch speed and location, I would have never thought (home run),’’ said Morton, who has given up three in his career to Frazier. “That was unbelievable. But great piece of hitting.’’
Right fielder Josh Reddick was just as surprised.
“It looked like he just hit it off the end (of the bat). It looked like it was just going to be a fly ball or a short line drive,’’ Reddick said. “To me it was just one of those things where … freak things happen.’’
But they didn’t for the Astros, who must be starting to scratch their heads about their own inability to score after leading the majors in runs during the season. Houston hitters not named Jose Altuve or Carlos Correa had managed three hits in 43 at-bats in the ALCS before Monday, when the team had four hits and spent most of the night flailing away at CC Sabathia’s assortment of sliders and well-placed fastballs.
Even Altuve and Correa were not immune, going a combined 1-for-8. Correa had a particularly frustrating at-bat in the third inning, when he came up with the bases loaded and a chance to cut into some of the lead Frazier had just provided.
Instead, he popped up to end the biggest threat against Sabathia, who yielded zero runs in six innings to improve to 10-0 with a 1.69 ERA in 13 starts after a New York loss this year.
With the Yankees averaging six runs at home in the playoffs compared to three on the road, their chances of getting ahead in this series suddenly look considerably better. On Tuesday, they will be facing right-hander Lance McCullers, who dealt with arm fatigue late in the season and has not started a game since Sept. 30.
The Yankees will send out Sonny Gray, who must have taken some notes watching Sabathia. The veteran lefty is now 5-1 with a 1.76 ERA in eight postseason games at Yankee Stadium after keeping an opponent scoreless for the first time in his 22 career postseason outings.
“It’s weird, me being 37, smoke and mirrors, getting a shutout,’’ said Sabathia, a former power pitcher who no relies on finesse. “Just keep riding it, trying to throw strikes and being aggressive.’’
And knowing how to avoid the danger spots in the ballpark.