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Yankees complete sweep of Astros


Yankees complete sweep of Astros

HOUSTON — The Yankees have probably learned a hundred things about Juan Soto since the first day he tried on their uniform, but one frequently discussed topic is the intensity with which he treats every at-bat. Each trip to home plate is a battle, and as his teammates have marveled, he seldom gives away a single pitch.

With the game on the line Sunday afternoon, there was no one the Yankees would have rather had in the batter’s box. Soto delivered again, lashing a go-ahead ninth-inning single off Josh Hader that helped power a 4-3 win over the Astros at Minute Maid Park, securing a sweep of the four-game series.

Soto became the first Yankees player in the expansion era (since 1961) to post a go-ahead RBI in three of his first four games with the club.

“You feel good when he’s up there,” said Alex Verdugo, who sealed the victory with a sliding catch in the home half of the ninth. “He’s really special. It doesn’t matter; lefty, righty, the way he controls the zone, knows himself and doesn’t let the moment get too big.

“ … He’s a dawg. Just put it like that, he’s a dawg, bro. I can’t say [anything] else. We’re dawgs out here.”

Here’s something to bark about: The Yankees have opened a season 4-0 for the 12th time in franchise history, the first time they’ve done so since 2003. New York has also won seven consecutive games at Minute Maid Park, dating to last September.

“It’s eerily similar to how we were in 2022, when we started off good,” said Clarke Schmidt, who permitted three runs over 5 1/3 innings in his season debut. “We just felt like we weren’t going to lose at the end of games. We were always going to come back, always in it.

“… You don’t really play playoff games in March, but this was a big-time series and a big-time sweep.”

Soto was a central figure throughout, contributing his trademark blend of patience and power, with better-than-advertised defense. Soto has batted .529 (9-for-17) through his first four games with the Bombers, with one double, one home run, four RBIs and three walks.

“That’s the kind of start I wanted,” Soto said. “I grinded really hard this offseason and in Spring Training, too, to be successful at the beginning of the season. Thank God it’s happening my way.”

Soto had already notched a pair of singles when he stepped in against the fireballing Hader in the ninth, a matchup between relocated ex-Padres stars. As Verdugo noted, these are the moments that Soto seems to crave.

“That’s what we play for,” Soto said. “We all know there’s going to be times when you fail, and sometimes we have success, but I always want to be up there. I don’t mind to be up there and get all the boos or all the claps. I’m always ready for it.”

Soto worked the count full before Gleyber Torres — who had singled and stolen second — broke for third base, charging home as Soto flared a two-seamer cleanly into left field.

“I think it just put a bow on the series, of what we saw in his at-bats,” manager Aaron Boone said. “Now you’re up against one of the game’s great closers. Just a great piece of hitting; a killer at-bat to finish off the series.”

Said Hader: “Tip your cap. You can always say you can throw another pitch, but I executed what I wanted to do, and a good hitter is going to do that sometimes.”

Soto and the Yanks had to sweat it out in the ninth inning, and it felt like a game they would have lost last season. It took a couple of dazzling defensive plays to keep the Astros down, coming after the first two batters reached against closer Clay Holmes.

Plugged into the lineup for his Yankees debut about 90 minutes before game time due to Anthony Volpe’s illness, Jon Berti made a diving stop at third base to rob Jose Altuve of a hit, scrambling to tag the bag and force out Jeremy Peña.

“Luckily, third base is kind of a reaction,” Berti said. “Knowing what kind of hitter he is, I was able to get a good jump on it and make a good play.”

Yordan Alvarez followed with a loud, deep flyout to center field for the second out, and Holmes induced Kyle Tucker to send a soft flare into left field.

Verdugo broke in and charged for it, securing the ball with a sliding grab — roaring wildly after a play that, according to Statcast, had only a 40 percent catch probability.

“I call it excitement,” Verdugo said. “I’m out here with my guys; I’ve got Judge and Soto out there. We just get amped up and we love it. That’s what we’re rolling with. We’re dawgs over here.”

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