Cole wears down Yankees as Astros lead series 2-1

New York Yankees right fielder Aaron Judge (99) strikes out off a pitch by Houston Astros starting pitcher Gerrit Cole (45) during the seventh inning in game three of the 2019 ALCS playoff baseball series at Yankee Stadium, Bronx, NY, USA, on Tuesday. — Reuters

LOS ANGELES — Gerrit Cole threw seven determined shutout innings and Jose Altuve crushed a solo homer early as the Houston Astros shut down the New York Yankees 4-1 to seize a 2-1 lead in the American League Championship Series on Tuesday.

Cole, 29, continued his postseason success in game three by striking out seven in a marathon contest in New York where he got off to a sketchy start but made clutch pitches when it counted most and ground out the win.

"I would get off to a good start at the start of the inning then fall behind a couple of pitches and lose some leverage and wasn't able to be free and easy," said Cole, who is poised to become a prized free agent in the offseason.

"Once I got to the fifth inning I started to roll a little bit and I found the location better.

"When it is all said and done, I feel like it evened out for the night."

The teams are scheduled to play game four on Wednesday but that could change as weather forecasters are predicting heavy rains around Yankee Stadium. Major League Baseball is considering switching the contest to Thursday.

Right hander Cole had to work for the victory Tuesday in front of a crowd of 47,400 as he allowed four hits and issued a career high five walks. His seven strikeouts snapped a string of 11 consecutive starts with 10 or more strikeouts.

"I just wanted to keep them off the board as long as I can," Cole said. "I knew the bullpen was fresh and we trust those guys.

"I had well executed pitches in some key counts and kept the pitch count down overall. The five walks is unacceptable. I will be better next time."

Altuve and Josh Reddick each hit towering 400 foot-plus homers early for the Astros, who are seeking their second World Series title in three years.

Altuve batted two-for-five and scored two runs, including one on a wild pitch by Zack Britton in a two-run seventh that gave the Astros a three-run lead.

Reddick's monster shot into the upper deck in right field in the second came off a slider from Yankees' starting pitcher Luis Severino.

Severino pitched 4 1/3 innings allowing five hits, two runs, walking three and striking out six.

Astros reliever Roberto Osuna earned the save retiring three straight New York batters in the ninth to end the three hour and 44 minute game.

The game featured a 17-minute delay before the start of the fifth inning when home plate umpire Jeff Nelson had to leave the contest with a concussion after taking two foul tips off his face mask.

Nelson was replaced by Kerwin Danley who moved over from second base.

The Yankees got their lone run off a homer by second baseman Greyber Torres in the eighth inning but it was too late.

Both teams loaded the bases in the opening inning but the Astros were the first to get on the board with Altuve's homer.

New York, who cruised to a 7-0 win in the opener, left nine runners on base in the first five innings before their bats went silent except for the Torres homer.

"It's obviously a little frustrating we weren't able to break through with him," New York manager Aaron Boone said of Cole. "But I think up and down we gave ourselves a chance. And anytime you're facing a guy like that, you want that kind of traffic. And we had that in several innings. He made big pitches when he had to." — AFP