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Yankees lose 2019 ALCS to Astros on Game 6 walk-off by José Altuve

I watched Game 6 of the 2019 American League Championship Series a day later than everybody else. First pitch at Minute Maid Park was tabbed for 1:08 am here in the UK, and I was exhausted after a tough week at work. Simple biology precluded me from staying awake for five hours, through interminable MLB TV delays, to participate live. Alas, I settled for the repeat on demand, fast-forwarding through the ad breaks on a Sunday morning, living and dying with every pitch.

A topsy-turvy series saw the Yankees and Astros jostle for supremacy. New York left Houston with a split of the first two games, only to fall flat at home, losing two consecutive contests. Up 3-1 in the series, Houston needed one win to clinch the American League pennant. Justin Verlander went for the jugular in Game 5, but the Yankees eked out a tense win to prolong their season.

A recap of Yankees-Astros, Game 6, 2019 ALCS

Heading back to Texas, neither team was particularly prepared for the rigorous duel that followed. Game 6 was billed as a ‘bullpen game,’ as managers Aaron Boone and AJ Hinch attempted to piece together 27 outs en route to glory. Brad Peacock started for the Astros while Chad Greene got the ball for New York. Green barely had time to settle before Yuli Gurriel torched him for a three-run homer in the first inning. The 2019 Yankees were on life support.

In a season defined by success through adversity, New York never gave up. That spirit was on display to the very last in Houston, where they ultimately came up short in the most gut-wrenching fashion imaginable. The Yankees chipped away throughout the night – or the morning here in Liverpool – but still they were down, 4-2, entering the ninth inning. Hours after the fact, I prayed for a miracle.

How DJ LeMahieu saved the Yankees with a heroic playoff home run

Hinch went to Roberto Osuna, his commanding closer, for the final three outs. Gio Urshela, one of the Yankees’ unsung heroes this season, greeted him with a single, only for Brett Gardner to strike out swinging. According to Baseball-Reference, as DJ LeMahieu stepped in, the Astros had a 91% chance of winning the game. The Yankees’ ride was all but over.

However, LeMahieu had other ideas, fighting off nine pitches as suspense mounted in my living room. I paced up and down, back and forth, teetering on the brink with each gruesome pitch. Osuna came set for the tenth time, then drove to the plate with a fastball. LeMahieu swung and sent a scything line drive into the right field seats.

Tied game.

Just like that.

Anarchy.

José Altuve beats Yankees with walk-off homer to win ALCS

No sooner had the celebrations died down than new suspense gripped my imagination. On the road, under pressure, Boone turned to Aroldis Chapman in a tied game. The bullpen ace got two quick outs before walking George Springer. Then the guy with the most pulsating velocity in modern major league history hung a 2-1 slider to José Altuve, who crushed it into the night for a walk-off home run.

The Houston Astros were American League champions.

Chapman slouched off the field wearing a pained grin of total exasperation. Some Yankees fans questioned his emotion after the game, writing angry posts on social media, but Chapman’s visage was one of ultimate pain, let me assure you. That was a proven winner losing when it mattered most. Controlling ones facial reactions in such a situation is impossible. Chapman was shattered.

Likewise, a global fanbase is in mourning today. Against mounting physiological odds, the New York Yankees came within touching distance of the pennant. They suffered more injuries in a single season than any other team in major league history – including significant blows to Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, Gary Sanchez, Luis Severino, Aaron Hicks and Dellin Betances – yet somehow won 103 regular season games.

For the first time since 2012, they were divisional champions, and a sense of destiny followed them throughout the season, from Tampa in the spring through London in the summer and on to New York in the fall. When the Yankees swept Minnesota in the ALDS - extending their playoff win streak over the Twins to a record 13 games – that destiny met a formidable roadblock in Houston. The Astros came out on top, but a valiant fight was conjured.

Yankees extend 2010s World Series drought, joining 1980s team in decade-long ignominy

And so, we are left to contemplate winter, as another Yankees season ends without the Holy Grail. A whole generation has come of age since the Bronx Bombers last won a World Series title. This most recent failure confirms the 2010s as the first calendar decade since the 1980s in which the Yankees have not won a single world championship. To find a decade in which they did not even win a measly pennant, one must trawl all the way back to the 1910s. A century of dominance is over.

However, in perverse contrast, as an organisation, the Yankees are arguably in better shape than they have been since early millennium. Brian Cashman has consolidated power and implemented a new-age philosophy that sets the franchise on course for sustainable success. The young core of Judge, Stanton, Severino and Torres is going nowhere fast, while prime-age reinforcements are likely to arrive.

In some respects, losing the ALCS can be seen as a failure for the Yankees. After all, as far back as 2014, they earmarked 2019 as the estimated time of arrival for their next dynasty. However, to win a World Series title while sustaining 35% more injuries than any other team in the major leagues is a monumental challenge – one the Yankees could not overcome.

Still, they will be back. They always are. It will take a while to recover from the stinging heartbreak, but the days will merge into weeks, and the weeks will blend into months. New additions will be made and ailing heroes will heal. The Yankees will get better, you can rest assured of that. They just need to get over the hump, although that is easier said than done.

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Ryan Ferguson is the author of Conflict: The Yankees, the Red Sox and the War for My Heart, available now in paperback and Kindle formats through Amazon. Click the link below to get your copy now!

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