Judge, slumping Yankees on the brink after getting blanked

NEW YORK (AP) — Back home for a must-win game, Aaron Judge and the New York Yankees generated more boos than base hits.

One more punchless performance and their season is over.

Handcuffed again by Cristian Javier and Houston’s stingy pitching staff, the power-packed Yankees went down meekly Saturday on three harmless hits in a 5-0 defeat that left them on the brink of a four-game sweep by the Astros in the AL Championship Series.

“We’ve got a lot of talented individuals in this room and just haven’t been able to get everybody clicking,” Judge said in a quiet Yankees clubhouse.

New York must find a way to bust out of its playoff slump Sunday night in Game 4 and beyond, or it will be 13 years and counting without a World Series appearance.

That’s a long time in the storied annals of baseball’s most successful franchise. But the only hope remaining for these $254 million Yankees is an improbable rally that would make them just the second team in major league history to overcome a 3-0 deficit in a best-of-seven postseason series.

Boston accomplished the feat in the 2004 ALCS against the rival Yankees on the way to winning its first World Series championship in 86 years.

“Our backs are against the wall now,” first baseman Anthony Rizzo said. “Collectively, we’ve just got to do a better job of putting pressure on them.”

Right now, New York would welcome something as simple as a clutch single — because the Astros are Yankees kryptonite.

After totaling just four runs during two losses in Houston to begin the series, New York’s normally potent lineup looked even more overmatched Saturday in providing zero support for ace Gerrit Cole.

“I think they’ve attacked the zone,” third baseman Josh Donaldson said. “They have good stuff. They have good arms over there. Can’t take anything away from those guys, but we just need to be better.”

Judge, who set an American League record with 62 home runs during the regular season, went 0 for 4 with two strikeouts and never got the ball out of the infield. He is batting .156 with 14 strikeouts and three RBIs in the playoffs, including 1 for 12 against the Astros.

“I wouldn’t say (how) I go, we go. We’ve got a lot of individuals on this team that can carry the club,” Judge said. “I’ve got to step up and do my job. I didn’t come up with the big hit, missed a couple the other night. But like I said, we’ve still got a lot of ballgame left in us. Just got to take care of business tomorrow.”

New York is hitting .128 with 41 strikeouts in the series. This from a team that led the majors with 254 homers during the season and finished second in runs to the Los Angeles Dodgers.

“I don’t think I’m perplexed about it. It’s just the nature of the game sometimes,” said outfielder Harrison Bader, who made a costly error when he nearly collided with Judge in right-center. “It’s a small sample size.”

Giancarlo Stanton doubled on a 3-0 delivery with one out in the fourth inning — the first hit Javier had allowed in 167 pitches versus the Yankees this year. The 25-year-old righty threw seven innings and struck out 13 in a combined no-hitter by three Houston hurlers at Yankee Stadium on June 25.

This series was supposed to be an entertaining clash between the American League’s preeminent powers, but the Yankees have been no match for Houston pitching.

“They’re not really missing over the big part of the plate a lot,” Rizzo said.

The playoff-proven Astros improved to 8-2 against New York this year, including October. They eliminated the Yankees from the postseason in 2015, 2017 and 2019, and are right on the cusp of doing it again.

Yankees manager Aaron Boone has shuffled his lineup during the series in an attempt to get the offense going. Nothing has worked.

“Obviously, frustrating day. It felt like we had some pitches there with Javier to do some things with and just fouled some pitches off. I thought there were some good at-bats sprinkled in there. But obviously just not able to mount enough,” Boone said. “We just need to get a little bit of a spark and something to bounce our way and try and grab a lead and play with it a little bit.”

As the Astros paraded six pitchers to the mound, New York was in danger of being held to one hit for the first time in its 422-game postseason history before Matt Carpenter and Bader got consecutive singles with two outs in the ninth.

Donaldson then struck out to end it, bringing the last round in a string of boos all day from the scattered fans who remained.

“I think they were booing a lot tonight,” Donaldson said.

Said Judge: “I definitely understand their frustration. … I understand why there’s boos and why there’s yelling at times. We’ve got to pick it up as a team.”

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