The Yankees needed James Paxton to outduel Justin Verlander to keep their season alive, and that’s exactly what the talented southpaw did.
James Paxton was acquired by the Yankees this offseason to help fortify the top of their pitching staff. He did a decent job of that during the regular season, but his performance against the Astros in Game 5 of the ALCS bordered on spectacular.
The 30-year-old left-hander accomplished something on Friday night that not a lot of his MLB peers can claim. He went toe-to-toe with Astros’ ace Justin Verlander in the postseason and he came out on top. Paxton dominated Houston’s star-studded lineup for six innings while only giving up a single, solitary run. His nine strikeouts served as evidence for just how special Paxton was during his third start of the 2019 postseason.
Interestingly, all of the game’s scoring came in the first inning. George Springer led the game off with an infield single and scored on a Paxton wild pitch to give the Astros a one run lead. The Yankees responded emphatically in the bottom half of the first with a leadoff home run from DJ LeMahieu. A few batters later Aaron Hicks delivered what turned out to be the real hammer blow of the game. The left-handed batter ripped a line drive to right field that caromed off the foul ball for a three-run homer. That swing gave the Yankees a 4-1 lead they never relinquished.
Paxton’s seminal moment came much later. With two outs in the sixth inning Aaron Boone walked towards the mound with the intention of removing his starting pitcher from the game. Paxton had other plans. He waved Boone back into the dugout much to the delight of the frenzied crowd in Yankee Stadium. Paxton retired the last batter of the inning on a deep flyball to left, but his decision to wave his manager off will likely be the defining moment of his first season in the Bronx.
In the end, Paxton’s gem might only provide the Yankees a temporary reprieve. The team still needs to go to Houston and win consecutive games if they’re going to advance to another World Series. Saturday night’s game will likely boil down to a matchup between each team’s bullpen. In the event that the Yankees can push things to a Game 7, they’ll need to find a way to earn a victory over Gerrit Cole.
Paxton’s big start doesn’t give the Yankees the series, but it does give them new life. Securing a stay of execution was a big step in Paxton’s quest to earn his pinstripes.