HOUSTON — The Yankees know they’ll have to ask a lot of their bullpen if they want to win their first World Series in a decade.
Sunday night was a fierce test and, for the most part, their relievers did all the Yankees could have expected.
Manager Aaron Boone called on eight different relievers — including CC Sabathia and J.A. Happ — after removing James Paxton in the third inning of Sunday’s 3-2, 11-inning loss to the Astros in Game 2 of the ALCS at Minute Maid Park.
And other than two pitches, they were up to the task.
The exceptions proved to be especially costly, as Adam Ottavino hung a slider to George Springer in the fifth to tie the game at 2-2, and Happ gave up the game-winning homer to Carlos Correa to start the bottom of the 11th.
Boone’s trust in his pen led him to take Paxton out early, and he was impressed by what the relievers did.
“You’re playing it to win the game,’’ Boone said of his move to get Paxton. “You’re not playing it to [say], ‘What if we go 13 [innings]’, you know? You’re playing it to, ‘What gives us the best chance to win here?’ And the bottom line is we end up giving up a third run in the 11th inning. I’d say from a run-prevention standpoint, it went pretty well.”
Ottavino entered with one out in the bottom of the fifth following two scoreless innings from Chad Green, Ottavino immediately gave up a game-tying home run to Springer.
He then whiffed Michael Brantley, but Brantley reached on a wild pitch on Strike 3 before Jose Altuve’s infield single to shortstop.
Ottavino recovered to strike out Alex Bregman looking, but was pulled for Tommy Kahnle to face the left-handed Yordan Alvarez.
Kahnle did the job, whiffing Alvarez to keep the game knotted at 2-2, but it was another concerning performance from Ottavino, who twice faced just one batter during outings against the Twins in the ALDS.
Kahnle wound up pitching 2¹/₃ perfect innings.
It’s been a different experience for Ottavino — who, in five playoff games this year, has given up five hits, one run and two walks to go along with three strikeouts. In Saturday’s win, when Ottavino pitched a scoreless inning, he still gave up a pair of singles and needed a double play to escape without giving up a run.
It follows his final seven appearances of the regular season, when he allowed five runs (three earned) over six innings while walking four and striking out seven.
This wasn’t what the Yankees had in mind when they made Ottavino one of their major offseason free agent acquisitions.
“I feel good,’’ Ottavino said.
Other than that blip, the Yankees’ pen was excellent — including Sabathia, who made the third relief appearance of his career and second in a postseason game.
“That’s what we’re gonna need to continue to do to beat this team,’’ Sabathia said. “They’re a great team. It’s gonna take all of us.”