Yankees stave off elimination, beat Justin Verlander, Astros in Game 5 of ALCS – USA TODAY


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NEW YORK — There wasn’t supposed to be a Game 6.

The Houston Astros were planning to fly home late Friday evening feeling a little tipsy with the scent of champagne and beer on their clothes, and hang out in Houston all weekend waiting for the World Series.

Instead, they’ll be trying to figure out what in the world just happened.

The New York Yankees, who sent this American League Championship Series back to Houston after a 4-1 victory, may be asking themselves the same thing.

The Astros, just one victory away, and playing a Yankees’ team that looked like it was already packing up for the winter, and manager Aaron Boone ripping them for their play after Game 4, instead looked like they saw a ghost.

They were the victims of the most stunning first inning in Yankee Stadium playoff history.

It began when D.J. LeMahieu hit the second pitch of the game into the right-field seats off Cy Young favorite Justin Verlander — the first leadoff homer at Yankee Stadium since Derek Jeter in 2004 — and ended when Aaron Hicks hit a three-run homer off the right-field foul pole.

It was the first time in Yankees’ playoff history that they ever hit two home runs in the first inning. Just like that, the Yankees produced their most home runs in the first inning of any postseason game in their storied franchise history, spanning 405 games.

Verlander, who had permitted just a total of just four runs in his last four postseason start against the Yankees, gave up as many runs and homers in the first inning.

It was the first time Verlander gave up four runs in any single inning since Aug. 11, 2014, against Pittsburgh Pirates.

It was a one-inning horror show, leaving the Astros dazed.

Verlander settled back down, commanding his fastball again, looking again like the guy who’ll be in Cooperstown five years after retirement.

He retired 10 consecutive batters after Hicks’ homer, but the trouble was that James Paxton kept mowing down the Astros. He was brilliant. The only run he gave up was courtesy of an infield single, a passed ball, and a wild pitch in the first inning.

He completely shut down the Astros’ offense, with their top five hitters managing only a measly single after George Springer’s leadoff hitter. He threw 112 pitches, the most by any Yankee pitcher all season, with Boone getting a standing ovation for merely permitting him to face one last hitter, Robinson Chirinos in the sixth inning.

They were ready to turn those boos to jeers when Chirinos smoked Paxton’s pitch to the left-field wall, missing a homer by two feet.

That was it for the night, with Paxton saving the Yankees’ season.

So the series now returns to Houston.

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The Astros still are sitting pretty, leading 3 games to 2.

Besides, at some point, they’re going to have to start to hit. They are hitting just .210 this postseason, and have scored just 35 runs in 10 games.

They’ve been awful against the Yankees, hitting just .178. Yordan Alvarez, the heavy favorite to win the National League Rookie of the Year, has disappeared. He is one-for-19 this series with nine strikeouts, including three times Friday.

It’s enough to give a team hope, no matter the odds stacked against them.

Well, the Yankees sure looked like a completely different team this night than the one who committed four errors, struck out 13 times, and extended their hitless strike to 0-for-14 with runners in scoring position.

“I think everyone gets frustrated at that because we expect a lot of ourselves,’’ Boone said. “But one thing I know about them when we had a clunker or not played well, I feel like this team — as much as any that I’ve been around — do a very good job of letting (that) roll off and being hyper-focused on the day.’’

Mission accomplished.

The Yankees are still alive.

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