Everything has changed in this Yankees-Astros war

It can change that quickly. It can turn upside down in such a hurry. The Yankees won Game 1 of this best-of-seven American League Championship Series. They led Game 2. They’d stolen home-field from the Astros, threatened to sweep them at Minute Maid Park …

And in what feels like an eyeblink, they’re back where they started.

The Astros won Game 3 on Tuesday afternoon, 4-1, the Yankees done in by too much Gerrit Cole and by just enough Astros offense. Rain is in the forecast for Wednesday, casting doubt on Game 4, and maybe that’s just what the Yankees need: a day off to clear their heads, and a day off that’ll allow Masahiro Tanaka to pitch on full rest on Thursday.

They surrendered home-field with this loss, and suddenly find themselves two games away from winter. That 2-1 lead on Sunday vanished with one hanging slider from Adam Ottavino to George Springer, and an awful lot has changed between then and now. None of it good for New York.

The Yankees certainly had their chances against Cole, who wasn’t the overpowering version of himself from the Division Series against Tampa Bay, when he was damn near super-human. They got plenty of traffic against him, had multiple runners on against him in three of the first five innings.

But they couldn’t cash any of it, despite four hits and five walks. Cole wound up grinding through seven innings and 112 pitches, and he made big pitches every time he needed them: in the first, retiring Didi Gregorius with the bases loaded; in the second, striking out Aaron Judge with two aboard.

The Yankees dugout.
The Yankees look on dejectedly in the dugout.Anthony J Causi

And then in the fifth, two on again after back-to-back two-out walks, Gregorius up, hunting for a pitch to drive, getting one, and clobbering it high and deep to right. On a lot of days this year — credit the weather, if you want, or else the 800-pound pink elephant in the room, the juiced/unjuiced baseball — that ball lands in a sea of gleeful hands and the Yankees would’ve had a 3-2 lead.

On this day, as the day slipped into night, it backed Josh Reddick to the wall. Maybe Jeffrey Maier might have been able to help, but Maier is 35 years old now. Reddick caught it. The Astros kept their lead.

It looked like Houston could well have put the game away early against Severino. Like his start at Minnesota in the ALDS, Severino wasn’t at his sharpest and he threw a lot of pitches — 34 in the first inning alone. Unlike the hapless Twins, the Astros made him pay: a first-inning homer by Jose Altuve, a second-inning blast by Reddick.

But even though Aaron Boone had pitchers warming in four of the five innings in which he worked, Severino danced between the raindrops and kept the score 2-0 before he departed with one out in the fifth.

All afternoon long, a capacity crowd of 48,998 filled the Stadium with a familiar electricity. They were muted quickly when Altuve took Severino deep but they stayed engaged all day long, and seemed to get a second wind when Joe Smith jogged in to finally replace Cole in the bottom of the eighth.

By then, though, the Astros had doubled their lead, taking advantage of Ottavino (who has struggled most of the postseason), scoring one run on a Zack Britton wild pitch with the bases loaded and another on a sacrifice fly, both in the top of the seventh. Gleyber Torres did get the Yankees on the board, golfing a Smith sinker over the wall in right to make it 4-1 after eight.

Now, both teams study weather.com and whatever other resources they may have as an old-fashioned October rainstorm seems ready to pass through New York on Wednesday, possibly moving Game 4 to Thursday, which could alter a lot of best-laid plans.

For the Yankees, a whiff of desperation — just a whiff, mind you — has begun to waft into the proceedings. They aren’t necessarily entering must-win territory. But they’re inching closer. A little too close for their comfort.

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