There were other standouts — C. C. Sabathia delivered six shutout innings and Todd Frazier sent the Yankees in the right direction with an early three-run homer — but it was Judge who thrust himself back into the spotlight.
The Yankees continued their pattern of playing like a different team at Yankee Stadium, where they have won all four games in the postseason. The Astros, who played two airtight games in Houston over the weekend, seemed to feel as uncomfortable in the Bronx as the Minnesota Twins did in the wild-card game and the Cleveland Indians did in the division-series round.
If the Yankees were happy to have a break from facing the likes of Dallas Keuchel or Justin Verlander — the Astros’ two former Cy Young Award winners who dominated them over the weekend — they did not exactly strafe right-hander Charlie Morton.
Three of their six hits off Morton did not leave the infield, and two others barely did, a bloop single by Aaron Hicks and a bloop double by Greg Bird. But they hurt just the same.
With two outs in the second, Starlin Castro reached on dribbler to third. Hicks followed with a flare into left field. That brought up Frazier, who lunged at a 95-mile-per-hour fastball that was low and off the plate, and lifted it toward right field.
The swing was so awkward that right fielder Josh Reddick broke in on the ball before realizing how hard it was hit. Reddick retreated and gave chase, but the ball landed in the bleachers for a three-run shot. As it did, Frazier let out a yell and pointed to right field as he rounded first base.
The lead did not look any sturdier than Frazier’s swing did as the Astros loaded the bases with two outs in the third after Sabathia walked George Springer and Jose Altuve around a single by Alex Bregman. That brought up Carlos Correa, who had homered and doubled to account for both Astros runs on Saturday.
But Sabathia’s 0-1 cutter got in on Correa’s hands, and he popped out to end the threat.
In the fourth, it was Judge’s turn to thwart the Astros.
Judge, who had stolen a two-run home run from Francisco Lindor in a 1-0 win over the Indians in Game 3 of their division series, brought the crowd to its feet again — by leaving his feet.
This time he crashed into the wall to catch a drive by Yulieski Gurriel to begin the fourth inning. As Judge tumbled to the warning track, the crowd roared and Sabathia threw both arms into the air.
In the fifth, Judge came to Sabathia’s aid again, racing in to make a diving catch of Cameron Maybin’s liner and again lifted the home crowd off its seats.
It was those types of contributions that had left Manager Joe Girardi heartened even though Judge, with the home run, was 3 for 30 with 21 strikeouts since the start of the division series.
“Each round you move through, the stakes get higher and maybe you try a little harder,” Girardi said of Judge and catcher Gary Sanchez before the game. “I think they’re learning from it. I’m proud of the way they’re handling it. I know the results aren’t there that they want or we want, but I think they’re handling it.”
What did Girardi see that made him think that?
“Attitude,” he said. “It’s not affecting their defense. They’re playing hard. Look at the job Aaron does defensively. Look at the job Sanchez does defensively.”
When the Yankees took command in the fourth, their rally again had modest roots against Morton. Bird led off with a bloop double that Maybin, the left fielder, shied away from catching. After Morton retired Castro and Hicks — Bird advancing to third on the latter’s fly ball to right — Frazier drew a walk.
Chase Headley then hit a grounder up the middle that Altuve snagged with a dive, but he had no play as Bird crossed the plate. It was the first hit of the playoffs for Headley and the first by a Yankees designated hitter.
After Gardner was hit by a pitch to load the bases, Manager A. J. Hinch called on the right-hander Will Harris to relieve Morton.
Harris threw Judge a 2-2 fastball up and in, but Judge turned on it and lashed a line drive that carried over the head of Maybin and landed in the first row of the left-field bleachers. Suddenly, the Yankees’ lead was 8-0.
If that ended any suspense, there were a few moments of agitation in the ninth when Dellin Betances walked two batters, Tommy Kahnle allowed a walk and a single, and closer Aroldis Chapman was getting loose in the bullpen before Altuve grounded into a double play to end the game.
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