Hicks and Paxton Keep Yankees Alive, Head To Houston for Game 6

After an embarrassing display in Game 4, the Yankees picked up right where they left off with sloppy play in the 1st inning of Game 5. The Yankee Stadium energy was just about deflated after the wild pitch allowed George Springer to score, but Paxton worked out of his first inning trouble, giving the Yankees fans some hope.

In the bottom half of the 1st, the Yankees offense got going before Justin Verlander could get settled in. DJ LeMahieu jumped on the 2nd pitch from Verlander sending it 355ft into the right field seats, tying up the game at 1. The quick swinging approach continued with Aaron Judge turning around on a 94 MPH fastball into left for a single. Gleyber Torres followed with a double down the left field line, setting up the Yankees for yet another chance to blow the game wide open in first inning. But much like the previous two games, it looked like runners would be stranded on the base paths. Giancarlo Stanton struck out swinging on a slider and the exciting energy built up by the previous hitters, had become a nervous energy.

Then Aaron Hicks stepped into the batters box. Things did not look promising when Hicks started the at bat down 0-2 to Verlander, but after working the count full, Hicks had a chance to do some damage. Hicks jumped on a mistake pitch, a hanging slider in the middle of the plate and did not miss his opportunity to send Yankees Stadium into a frenzy. Hicks was out in front of the pitch, but was able to keep his hands back just enough to keep the line drive fair, clinging off the right field foul pole for a 3-run homer. Off the crack of the bat, the Yankees faithful erupted into a frenzy, something they had been waiting to do all series.

With this one swing of the bat, Hicks changed the energy, and though process of the 40,000+ in attendance. Going into the game on the brink of elimination against future Hall of Fame pitcher Justin Verlander, who the Yankees never beat, the energy amongst some fans was more of going to a funeral than a playoff game. But after Hicks jumped Verlander and gave the Yankees a good lead, the hopes were clearly raised. But even after the explosive first inning that had eluded the Yankees previously, there were still 8 innings left to play. They would need Paxton to give them length and production to both save the bullpen arms for Game 6, and protect the lead his offense gave him.

After his shaky first inning, he settled down and was filthy the rest of the way. Going 6 innings, allowing the one run, and picking up 9K’s along the way, Paxton earned his Yankees pinstripes. He looked like the pitcher that Brian Cashman envisioned he would be when he traded for Paxton in the offseason. A very interesting moment came in the top of the 6th with one on and Robinson Chirinos coming to bat. Yankees manager Aaron Boone came to the mound, which generally means he’s making a pitching change. He was greeted with overwhelming “boos” from the Yankees fans, and maybe it swayed his decision. After a brief discussion at the mound with Paxton, Boone left him in, pleasing every Yankees fan in attendance.

The next pitch that ensued almost took the life out of Yankees Stadium. Paxton missed his location with a fastball, and it ended up in Chirinos sweet spot, and he put a huge swing on it. For the few seconds it was in the air, the once loud and exuberant crowd collectively gasped. Fortunately for the Paxton, Boone, and the Yankees, Brett Gardner caught it up against the left field wall, preserving the 4-1 through 6 innings.

From then on the Yankees just followed their blueprint for success. A lead after 6, then handing the ball over to their high leverage relievers. Tommy Kahnle got the ball after Paxton and struggled for the first time in the series, but Zack Britton came in and bailed him out of trouble getting the next two batters (Brantley and Bregman) out. Britton continued into the 8th inning, getting a one-two-three inning, setting the 9th up perfectly for the well rested Aroldis Chapman to close the game out.

Chapman was dominate, running through the 8-9-1 hitters with ease, sending this series back to Houston for Game 6 which has been labeled a “Bullpen Game” for both squads. The Yankees look to force a game 7, while the Astros look to clinch their 2nd World Series appearance in the last 3 seasons.

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