NEW YORK — Some of the first references to “mystique and aura” as they relate to Yankee Stadium were spotted during the 2001 World Series, that thrilling best-of-seven that provided welcome distraction from a smoldering hellscape in Lower Manhattan just nine miles south. A television camera caught the phrase on a fan’s placard, and for a generation of fans, it clicked.
Joe Torre’s team had something special as it neared the end of its dynasty run — never out of a game, always threatening. There are hints of that with the current Yankees squad, especially in the Bronx, where they’ve flexed a certain je ne sais quoi. Even when the comeback falls short, as it did in Friday’s 3-1 loss to the Astros, you can easily picture it having gone the other way.
“We’re never out of a game until we’re back here in the locker room,” Giancarlo Stanton said. “If we’re going to lose, it’s better that we’re right there, one swing away from tying it or going up.”
After Thursday’s thrilling rally, in which Aaron Hicks belted a game-tying three-run homer and Aaron Judge delivered the club’s Major League-leading ninth walk-off win of the year, they were prepared to spill out of the dugout in celebration once more. The Yankees hadn’t lost at home since May 23 vs. Baltimore, a 15-game win streak that marked the longest at the current Yankee Stadium.
Justin Verlander’s seven strong innings surely would be wiped away as a momentary nuisance, or so the thinking went. The stage was set as Hicks and pinch-hitter Matt Carpenter worked walks against Rafael Montero, bringing DJ LeMahieu to the plate as the potential winning run. And then …
LeMahieu grounded out to third base, sending the Yankees trudging into a silent clubhouse that felt jarringly unfamiliar. There would be no belt presentation, no thumping Kevin Gates lyrics on repeat. Instead, there were reminders to start a new streak tomorrow, with two more games this weekend against Houston.
“Even though Verlander was tough, I felt like we were having the right at-bats against him,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said. “We just couldn’t push over the edge. When we got that pitch, it was a good swing and maybe we just fouled it off or missed it. I really thought the at-bats were OK.”
The touted pitching matchup of Luis Severino vs. Verlander proved worth the admission price, especially through the first five innings. Severino retired his first 10 batters, applauding as Hicks helped with a terrific diving catch toward the left-field foul line in the fourth to rob Jose Altuve of an extra-base hit.
“Great play; a really great play,” Boone said. “He needed every bit of a dive and another good break. He’s made some good plays over there the last few weeks, and that’s good to see.”
Houston threatened in the fifth, with a Yuli Gurriel double and an Aledmys Díaz single putting runners at the corners with none out. Severino dug deep, striking out Jason Castro, Jake Meyers and Altuve, prompting one of the most boisterous roars seen from Severino — a pitcher who’s not generally shy about showing emotion.
“They have a good lineup, so you have to be careful and make good pitches,” Severino said. “Especially against a pitcher like [Verlander], you have to be extremely careful. You know it’s not going to be a high-scoring game.”
Kyle Tucker touched Severino for a three-run homer in the sixth — all of Houston’s runs in the first two games of this series have come on a trio of three-run blasts. Stanton responded in the bottom of the inning, launching his second opposite-field homer in as many nights, this one a solo shot to the second deck in right field.
“I squared those two up,” Stanton said. “I’ve just got to have better at-bats with runners in scoring position.”
As Stanton alluded, that was where the magic ran dry for the Yanks, at least on this night. Verlander buffed his resume with another stellar outing; no real surprise to the Yankees, who offered Verlander a one-year, $25 million contract this past offseason.
So ended the Yanks’ longest home win streak since Aug. 16-Sept. 26, 1961. For the first time in more than a month of home games, they dusted off the losing quote playbook — tip your cap, get ‘em next time. Based upon their recent results, who would be surprised if they did just that?
“These games are fun. That’s what you look for,” Judge said. “Packed house, coming down to the wire like that, great pitchers on both sides. I’m looking forward to tomorrow’s game, that’s for sure.”