HOUSTON _ After a depleted lineup had too much muscle for the morbid Orioles this past weekend, the Yankees couldn’t handle the jump in class across three games against the Astros to start a week in bad fashion.
In the first two losses the Yankees had early leads against stud right-handers Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole and lost. Wednesday, James Paxton lowered the visitors into an early ditch with two first-inning runs that grew deeper as the game progressed until the Yankees scored four runs in the seventh to make it a one-run game.
With help from shortstop Gleyber Torres’ throwing error, the Astros answered with a run in the eighth that led to an 8-6 victory in front of 27,685 at Minute Maid Park.
Trailing 7-2 entering the top of the eighth, the first five Yankees reached base before Clint Frazier’s sacrifice fly plated Greg Bird and cut the Astros’ lead to 7-6 with one out and DJ LeMahieu the potential tying run at third. Austin Romine’s liner to second baseman Jose Altuve, who was playing in, was the second out and Ryan Pressly replaced Hector Rondon after Gary Sanchez was announced as the pinch hitter for Tyler Wade.
Sanchez, who didn’t start the game due to tightness in his lower legs, left the Yankees a run short by whiffing at a breaking ball.
Paxton had turned it over to Tommy Kahnle in the fifth, and by the time an ineffective Kahnle was replaced by Joe Harvey, the hosts were on the way to a victory that almost slipped away.
The Yankees’ six-game trip opened well in Baltimore with three victories and crashed in Texas where the 5-7 Yankees competed but didn’t win.
Altuve homered twice for the winners and had four in the three games, Carlos Correa added one and right-hander Collin McHugh handcuffed the Yankees’ bats.
Eleven games into the season, the Yankees trail the AL East-leading Rays by 4 ½ games.
For the second straight outing, Paxton (1-2, 6.00 ERA) gave up runs in the first inning and was tagged for five runs and eight hits (two homers) in four-plus frames. He packed a 6.00 ERA into his luggage for the flight home in front of a much-needed Yankees day off Thursday.
Altuve turned Paxton’s first pitch of the fourth inning into his second homer of the game and pushed the Astros’ lead to 4-2. When Michael Brantley beat the shift with a soft ground ball to the left side, Aaron Boone replaced Paxton with Kahnle.
The switch from left-hander to right-hander didn’t go the way Boone would have liked because Correa hit a homer to left that upped the Astros’ lead to 6-2 and Jake Marisnick’s single plated Aledmys Diaz for a 7-2 advantage.
Brett Gardner’s leadoff homer in the first and LeMathieu’s sacrifice fly in the fourth that cut the Astros’ lead to 3-2 were the only runs given up by McHugh (2-1) in six innings.
McHugh’s slider gave Aaron Judge fits in his first three at-bats that ended in strikeouts. Josh James walked Judge to start the eighth and Luke Voit followed with a homer that cut the deficit to 7-4. Torres dumped a single into right and Bird walked. That brought Hector Rondon from the bullpen to face LeMathieu. Rondon gave up a RBI double to LeMathieu and a sacrifice fly to Frazier.