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Judge HR sparks NY, Yanks beat Astros 6-4 to level ALCS at 2
By JAKE SEINER
NEW YORK (AP) With a soaring shot headed for Monument Park, Aaron Judge got New York back on course for another memorable October.
Judge ignited a comeback with a home run , then hit a tying double during a four-run eighth inning to spur the Yankees over the Houston Astros 6-4 Tuesday night and level the AL Championship Series 2-2.
The Baby Bombers trailed 4-0 against starter Lance McCullers Jr. until Judge homered leading off the seventh. He tied it with a line drive that nearly left the park in the eighth and scored when Gary Sanchez hit a go-ahead two-run double off loser Ken Giles.
"I didn't know what to do after I touched home plate," Judge said. "I can't describe it."
The Yankees overcame three errors and have rallied from a second straight 0-2 series deficit - they beat Cleveland in the Division Series by winning three in a row to take that best-of-five matchup.
Aroldis Chapman struck out two in a perfect ninth to cap a three-hitter and get the save. Before a sellout crowd of 48,804, New York improved to 5-0 at home in the playoffs and won for the 18th time in its last 21 home games.
"Every home game has been special," manager Joe Girardi said. "I just feel like the fans are back. And I see things that I haven't in a while, and it reminds me a lot of when I was playing here."
Yankee Stadium will be rocking again when Masahiro Tanaka pitches for New York against Dallas Keuchel in Game 5 Wednesday. It's a rematch of the series opener, when Keuchel outdid the Japanese right-hander in a 2-1 Astros win.
An AL MVP candidate mired in a sluggish October, Judge sparked the Yankees by chasing McCullers, who baffled the Yankees with his power breaking ball.
Except for the last one.
Judge launched a curveball into the netting above center field's Monument Park for New York's second hit.
"I thought Aaron's home run just lit a little spark," Girardi said.
Todd Frazier led off the eighth with a single to left, and pinch-hitter Chase Headley, in a 1-for-18 postseason slide, singled. He lost his balance stepping on first, fell en route to second, then took a step back before continuing on and getting his left hand in ahead of Jose Altuve's tag.
"Just stumbled and stumbled and stumbled and finally went down," Headley said. "I went from one of the best feelings of my career to one of the worst in just a matter of seconds."
Headley was awarded second after a video review, and the ballpark boomed when crew chief Gary Cederstrom gave the signal. It got so loud that on-deck hitter Brett Gardner said he "kind of blacked out for a second."
Gardner brought in Frazier on a groundout, and Judge came to bat with the bundled, buzzing crowd on its feet.
He lunged for a low slider and drilled a double high off the left-field wall as a fan in a longsleeve yellow shirt reached down and touched the ball. Pinch-runner Jacoby Ellsbury came home with the tying run, and Gregorius grounded a single just beyond shortstop Carlos Correa's reach to put runners at the corner. Sanchez, who had been 0 for 13 in the series, scored them both with a slicing drive that skipped to the wall in right-center.
"Those guys came up big for us today," Girardi said.
Judge had multiple hits for the first time since the AL wild-card game against Minnesota. He's still just 7 for 37 with 22 strikeouts in the playoffs, but he's 4 for 13 (.308) with three walks in the ALCS. He also homered in an 8-1 Game 3 win.
Judge said he used to dream about postseason at-bats in Yankee Stadium as a minor leaguer.
"The dreams aren't the same as reality," he said. "To be out with the crowd and the atmosphere, it was unbelievable."
The 35-minute bottom of the eighth was the latest stunning comeback for New York, which has overcome deficits of three or more 11 times this year, including in the wild-card game against Minnesota.
Houston had not lost consecutive games since Sept. 8-10 at Oakland and had the major leagues' best road record during the regular season. The Astros are hitting .153 in the series.
"We're not going to hit the panic button because we lost two games in a row," Correa said. "We got Keuchel going tomorrow."
McCullers cruised in his first start since Sept. 30 and turned over a 4-1 lead to his bullpen.
"He was awesome," manager A.J. Hinch said. "And really proud of him because I know how important this start was for him."
OUT, SAFE, OUT
The fourth inning ended strangely. Judge was doubled off first on Sanchez's popup, but the Yankees successfully challenged that Judge beat first baseman Gurriel to the base. Houston then appealed that Judge missed retouching second on his way back to first. Judge - realizing he would be called out on the challenge - decided to race McCullers' appeal throw to second and was tagged out. He would have voided the appeal attempt if he had beaten the throw.
"The coaching staff kind of gave me a heads up," Judge said. "So I said, `All right, let's go. Got to try something.'"
Adding to the strangeness: throughout the challenge, McCullers was digging around the mound with his hands, scooping up beads off his necklace, which broke during the play.
Tanaka has been receiving treatment on his leg after being struck by Reddick's liner in Game 1. He did not expect it to be an issue Wednesday.
Follow Jake Seiner on Twitter: https://twitter.com/jake-seiner
More AP baseball: https://apnews.com/tag/MLBbaseball
Updated October 17, 2017