Sports

Bitter Yankees-Astros rivalry is exactly what MLB needs a lot more of

Maybe it is too much to ask, because it sure seems the Yankees are officially committed to a policy of one-step-up, two-steps-back — and that isn’t the best way to negotiate a pennant race, especially one in which you are playing from behind.

But, man, baseball could sure use some more Yankees-Astros.

Baseball craves another chapter of this percolating blood feud, and that will only be possible if the Yankees can drag themselves out of the quicksand and make a legit second-half run, find their way into the playoffs, become entangled in another best-of-seven (or best-of-five; we won’t be picky) with those dastardly demons from the Lone Star State.

“This,” 72-year-old Dusty Baker said late Sunday afternoon, “is one of the things that keeps me coming back. This roller coaster that we call Major League Baseball.”

Yankees fans probably don’t want to hear about that right now, because right now Yankees fans want everyone fired, want everyone traded, want to burn the franchise blueprints and start all over following a nasty and nauseating gag job in Houston, a 7-2 laugher heading into the ninth that wound up an 8-7 bone-crusher exiting it with Jose Altuve — of course — serving once more as the Astros’ MC from hell.

Yankees
Chad Green walks off the mound after giving up a home run to Jose Altuve.
AP

The Yankees lost, somehow, after being issued 14 walks. The Yankees failed to sweep, again, somehow, despite holding the Astros to all of two runs across the first 20 innings of this series. The Red Sox had already lost. The Rays had already lost. The Yankees were three outs away from inching closer to the top of the division with three days to savor.

They only got one of those outs.

The ninth was a bruising blur, an infield single and three straight doubles, a scratch single, a weak line drive. Domingo German gave way to Chad Green. Astros fans stood and roared mostly because they’d had zero to get excited about for three days.

Up stepped Altuve.

And look: Yankees-Astros is, indeed, as sweaty a rivalry as there is in baseball right now, there are the three postseason losses the Yankees have suffered to the ’Stros since 2015, and all the off-field drama that surrounded their dual meetings in the ALCS in both 2017 and 2019. But when you boil it down, it is even simpler than that.

It’s an Altuve-Yankees rivalry.

It was Altuve who won what many Yankees fans believe was Aaron Judge’s MVP trophy in ’17. It was Altuve who walked off Aroldis Chapman two years later, taking great care to make sure his teammates didn’t rip his jersey off in the moment, a gesture for which he was acquitted in MLB’s investigation but for which he was roundly convicted in the court of public opinion.

And this year it’s only gotten … worse? Better? Angrier? Bloodier? Yankees fans filleted Altuve for three straight days in The Bronx back in May — coming up with a “[Bleep] Altuve!” chant a few weeks before their Knicks brethren would counter with [Bleep] Trae Young!” — before Altuve gained his revenge, blasting a fastball in his eyes off Green to salvage a game.

This weekend, the Yankees took great delight in tweaking Altuve. Aaron Judge clearly mimicked him when he hit the home run that won the Yankees a 1-0 game Saturday. Gary Sanchez did the same thing Sunday. Astros catcher Martin Maldonado kicked it up a notch by mimicking the mimickers when he hit his own solo shot Sunday.

And then Altuve. It was a slider this time, out of the zone. Altuve took his best 2-iron hack at it, and it was a goner the moment it left the bat. He rounded the bases slowly. Minute Maid Park nearly fell off its moorings. Dazed Yankees stumbled off the field. Altuve crossed home plate and … and … and …

Yep. Off came the shirt. No complaints this time. No wires or buzzers either (this time).

On TV David Cone said: “The last troll of the weekend goes to Jose Altuve and the Houston Astros.”

Maldonado said: “I was watching a fight last night and the guy that won the fight said, ‘Karma is not a bitch, it is a mirror.’ ”

Yankees
Gary Sanchez celebrates his home run against the Astros on Sunday.
AP

(Of course, by now, Yankees fans are probably wondering ‘When do we get to hold the mirror at the end?”)

“It was a miracle,” Baker said.

Yankees fans might choose other words.

“Another gut-punch,” Aaron Boone called it.

Yes. That works too. And the Yankees are still officially in critical condition. But if they could ever find their stride the next few weeks, ever get back in play for October, ever find themselves on one more collision course with the Astros …

Yeah. Baseball could use a little of that. Or a lot of it.

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