Dallas Keuchel Continues to Be Yankees' Worst Nightmare in Game 1 Masterpiece

Jacob Shafer@@jacobshaferFeatured ColumnistOctober 14, 2017

HOUSTON, TX - OCTOBER 13:  Dallas Keuchel #60 of the Houston Astros reacts in the third inning against the New York Yankees during game one of the American League Championship Series at Minute Maid Park on October 13, 2017 in Houston, Texas.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Elsa/Getty Images

Dallas Keuchel has been many things in his Houston Astros career: Gold Glove recipient, All-Star Game starter, undisputed ace, Cy Young Award winner.

Now, add another accolade to the left-hander's sterling resume: New York Yankees slayer.

In Game 1 of the American League Championship Series on Friday, Keuchel twirled seven shutout innings, allowing four hits and one walk and striking out 10.

The Yanks plated a run in the ninth when first baseman Greg Bird took Houston closer Ken Giles deep, but Giles locked down the save, and the 'Stros prevailed, 2-1, at Minute Maid Park.

Astros second baseman and presumptive AL MVP Jose Altuve went 3-for-4 with a stolen base and a run scored. Shortstop Carlos Correa and first baseman Yuli Gurriel picked up key RBI. Left fielder Marwin Gonzalez conjured an indispensable outfield assist.

But the night's unqualified hero was Keuchel.

HOUSTON, TX - OCTOBER 13:  Dallas Keuchel #60 of the Houston Astros pitches in the first inning against the New York Yankees during game one of the American League Championship Series at Minute Maid Park on October 13, 2017 in Houston, Texas.  (Photo by R
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Coming into the game, Keuchel owned a 1.41 ERA in six career regular-season starts against the Yankees with 45 strikeouts in 44.2 innings. Current Yankees batters were hitting .181 against him with a .287 slugging percentage.

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In the 2015 Wild Card Game, the hirsute Houston hurler went six scoreless with seven strikeouts against New York as the Astros prevailed, 3-0.

Cry small sample size. Call it blind luck. For whatever reason, Keuchel had owned the Yankees with a capital "O."

Want a sprinkling of salt, Bronx faithful? Here you go, courtesy of ESPN Stats & Info:

Or how about this, via Sportsnet Stats:

Sorry, now we're just going to slather lemon juice directly into the wound:

"It's not just because it's the Yankees," Keuchel said prior to Friday's ALCS Game 1, per Dan Martin of the New York Post. "I think it's just been a culmination of command, location, maybe a little bit more confidence. And just because it's the Yankees you kind of get a little bit more amped and a little more jittery because it is the pinstripes and such a storied organization."

Keuchel is acknowledging he's motivated by the Yankees even as he's denying it. More importantly, he's proving he's the co-ace Houston needs.

The Astros acquired righty Justin Verlander at the waiver deadline from the Detroit Tigers. They can trot out Verlander, the playoff veteran and former AL Cy Young Award and MVP winner, in the October crucible.

They still need Keuchel to play Robin to Verlander's Batman. And perhaps vice versa. 

Verlander posted a 1.06 ERA in five starts with the Astros but owned a 3.36 ERA overall. Compare that to Keuchel's 2.90 overall ERA, and you see why the sinkerballing southpaw is ostensibly Houston's horse.

Keuchel missed almost two months this season with a neck injury. He sported a 4.55 ERA in 2016 after dominating in 2015. There were reasons to wonder if he was a big-game pitcher or a big-time liability.

Those doubts were laid to rest Friday.

"He's just special," Correa said after Friday's win, per MLB.com's Brian McTaggart and Bryan Hoch. "He's special to watch. I love playing behind him."

HOUSTON, TX - OCTOBER 13:  Dallas Keuchel #60 of the Houston Astros reacts after striking out the third batter in the second inning during game one of the American League Championship Series at Minute Maid Park on October 13, 2017 in Houston, Texas.  (Pho
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

It's only one game, and the Yankees could come storming back. Just ask the defending Junior Circuit champion Cleveland Indians, who learned the hard way what it means to underestimate these irrepressible pinstripe whippersnappers. 

This series is merely getting started, and we should all be pleased about that. Buy the ticket and enjoy the ride.

If the Astros were looking to throw down the gauntlet, however, throw it they did. They are on track to break one of MLB's quietest championship droughts.

And the gauntlet was thrown, fittingly and promisingly, by the left arm of Dallas Keuchel.

He could throw again in Game 5 on normal rest, and be available in a potential Game 7 in this new era of the postseason starter-reliever. 

He's been many things in his Houston career. Now, he has a chance to be a certified Yankee killer—and possibly a world champion.

   

All statistics current as of Friday and courtesy of Baseball-Reference.