HOUSTON — There is one ace the Yankees haven’t been able to hit in the playoffs: Justin Verlander.
Verlander fended off the Bombers for the second time in the ALCS, going seven scoreless innings while striking out eight, as the Astros forced a decisive Game 7 with a 7-1 victory over the Yankees on Friday at Minute Maid Park.
The two teams will play again on Saturday in Houston, with the winner moving on to face the Dodgers in the World Series and the loser going home. CC Sabathia will start for the Yankees, perhaps against Lance McCullers Jr. on short rest.
The Bombers are 1-5 on the road, compared to 6-0 at home in the postseason. But they’re also 4-0 in elimination games thus far.
Their only offense came when Aaron Judge clobbered a 425-foot solo homer to left-center — perhaps off the train — with one out in the eighth. It was his fourth homer of the playoffs.
Verlander, who went the distance while striking out 13 in the Astros’ walk-off victory over the Yankees in Game 2, has allowed just one run in 16 innings in the ALCS while striking out 21.
This time, he got some help from his defense, as George Springer made a leaping catch at the wall to rob Todd Frazier of extra bases with two on in the seventh.
Luis Severino exchanged zeroes with Verlander until the fifth, when he was burned by three walks.
Ex-Yankee Brian McCann drilled a 98-mph fastball by Severino into right for an RBI ground-rule double with one out — snapping an 0-for-11 start to the series while giving Houston its first run since the seventh inning of Game 4.
And Jose Altuve snapped his own 0-for-12 skid, taking advantage of a hanging breaking ball and ripping it for a two-run single with two outs to knock Severino out of the game.
Severino had produced four innings of one-run ball in Game 2 before being taken out for precautionary reasons.
Altuve drilled a solo homer into the Crawford Boxes in the eighth off David Robertson to give the Astros a three-run lead again. D-Rob had a rare disastrous outing, surrendering hits to all four batters he faced, as the score got out of hand.
The Bombers also blew a chance in the sixth with two on and two outs, when Gary Sanchez inexplicably hit a check-swing grounder to short with the count 3-0.
Frazier had an even uglier swing, though, when he got completely fooled by a Verlander curveball to end the fifth.
Aaron Hicks nearly missed a game-tying three-run homer that went just foul in the seventh. Hicks ultimately ended a 10-pitch at-bat by swinging through a 3-2 slider from Verlander after fouling off four-straight pitches.
Judge struck out twice to tie Alfonso Soriano’s all-time record for strikeouts in a postseason (26).
McCullers gave up just a solo homer to Aaron Judge over six-plus innings in Game 4 before Houston’s bullpen blew a 4-1 lead.
Sabathia threw six shutout innings in Game 3. He struck out a season-high tying nine in the Yankees’ do-or-die victory over the Indians in Game 5 of the ALDS.
PLAY OF THE GAME
George Springer’s sprinting-leaping grab of Todd Frazier’s fly ball in the seventh. With the Astros holding a 3-0 lead and starter Justin Verlander in trouble with runners on first and second and one out, Frazier’s ball would have been at least a run and an extra-base hit, but Springer sprinted back to the warning track just to the left of center field and leapt to grab it.
Brian McCann had not had a hit in the ALCS against his former team, but with two on and one out in the bottom of the fifth, the Astros catcher laced a double into right field, which bounced over the fence for a ground-rule double. It snapped the scoreless tie and a 15-inning scoreless streak for the Astros.
Luis Severino had his second postseason meltdown. The righthander, who could not get out of the first inning of the American League Wild Card Game, didn’t make it through the fifth Friday night. He walked three in the fifth and was yanked after giving up a two-run single to Jose Altuve. Severino went 4.2 innings, allowing three earned runs on three hits. He walked four and struck out three.
Jose Altuve snapped an 0-for-14 streak with a two-run single in the Astros’ three-run fifth inning. The undersized Astros” second baseman then homered off David Robertson to lead off the eighth.
STAR OF THE GAME
Justin Verlander pitched in his fifth career elimination game and for the fourth straight time, he held off the end of the season. Verlander pitched seven scoreless innings Friday night, struck out eight and walked one. He worked around trouble in the sixth and seventh to pick up his second win in this ALCS.
STAT OF THE GAME
24. Justin Verlander has pitched in five elimination games in his career. He is now 4-1 in those games with a 1-21 ERA and has posted 24 straight scoreless innings in those games.
Chad Green gave the Yankees 2.1 scoreless innings in relief Friday night. He has now pitched 6.1 scoreless in this ALCS, striking out seven.
Yankees reliever David Robertson did not retire a batter in the eighth. He gave up a home run to Jose Altuve and was charged with four runs on four hits.
“This is an environment where we’re playing well. It’s an environment that’s comfortable, our daily routine, our home clubhouse. We get out to the game and there’s going to be quite a few people there that are rocking Astros gear and ready to cheer us on.
“All of that can create a buzz that’s all pro us. And I think players feed off that. Obviously the first time something happens, and you talk about the momentum adjustments we have to make, then all of a sudden the crowd gets into it, and the guy has to make pitches. Our version of 45,000 people screaming for us.
“Players love it, they adapt. And obviously we’re proud to be home.” — Astros manager A.J. Hinch before Game 6.
Saturday at Houston, 8:08 p.m. FS1
LHP CC Sabathia (1-0, 2.30) vs. RHP Charlie Morton (0-1, 10.13 ERA)