NEW YORK — In Houston, they’ll remember this one as the Christian Vázquez Game.
Was there anything the former Red Sox catcher didn’t do in Game 3 of the American League Championship Series on Saturday? He drove in two runs with a clutch single, scored a run, and drew a walk in a 5-0 victory against the Yankees.
He also threw out a runner trying to steal second and handled six pitchers who combined on a three-hitter with 11 strikeouts.
“Oh, yeah, he had an outstanding game,” said Astros manager Dusty Baker, whose team has a 3-0 series lead with Game 4 on Sunday night.
This game was why Houston traded two prospects to the Red Sox on Aug. 1 to get Vázquez as the backup to well-respected Martín Maldonado. It’s hard enough finding one good catcher. Two is a real advantage.
But then the Astros seem to have every edge against the Yankees. They have won eight of the 10 meetings between the teams this season and are better in every facet of the game.
Vázquez helped offer proof of that throughout Game 3.
He sent a fly ball to right center with two outs in the second inning that Harrison Bader dropped while trying to avoid an onrushing Aaron Judge. Chas McCormick followed with a home run to right field.
With Houston leading 2-0 in the fifth, Bader tried to steal second and Vázquez made a perfect throw to shortstop Jeremy Peña.
After the first three Astros reached base to start the sixth inning, Yankees manager Aaron Boone made the decision to lift Gerrit Cole.
Trey Mancini, in the lineup because Baker played a hunch that he was due, delivered a sacrifice fly off Lou Trivino. Vázquez then lined a single to left field and two more runs scored.
“Big knock for the team,” said Vázquez, who was waiting on a slider and got one.
Baker told Vázquez earlier in the week that he would catch Game 3. There were several reasons. Vázquez had caught starter Cristian Javier in six games. He also had deep knowledge of the Yankees given his years with the Red Sox.
“It’s easier to call a game when you know everybody,” said Vázquez, who had his wife, two sons and father at the game.
Javier had gone three weeks without a start. But every time the righthander quivered a bit, Vázquez was quickly able to get him refocused.
Javier worked around a leadoff walk in the second inning by striking out Matt Carpenter, getting Bader on a foul pop that Vázquez snagged, then striking out Josh Donaldson.
In a 2-0 game, Giancarlo Stanton doubled to right field in the fourth inning. Vázquez called for a high fastball that Gleyber Torres popped up behind first base for an easy out. Two pitches later Carpenter was retired on a fly ball to center.
“He was calling all the pitches,” said Javier, who went 5⅓ innings. “I felt that we were connected in that moment. I think he called a really good game.”
Going back to the 18-inning Game 3 of the Division Series against Seattle, Vázquez has caught 21 consecutive scoreless innings working with eight different pitchers.
Whether it’s Maldonado or Vázquez behind the plate, the Yankees look sickly. They have scored four runs on 12 hits over three games while striking out 41 times.
Judge is 1 for 12. He was 0 for 4 Saturday, twice striking out and getting booed for it. It was an ugly scene in the Bronx.
Vázquez has had big moments in the playoffs before. He called the slider that Chris Sale threw to strike out Manny Machado for the final out of the 2018 World Series.
He also had a walkoff homer at Fenway Park in Game 3 of the Division Series against Tampa Bay last season. None of this was new to him.
What made it special was it came for a new team loaded with the highest of expectations after a 106-win regular season.
Vázquez will be a free agent, so this season could well be it for him in Houston. If so, he proved his worth.
“Every postseason win is awesome. We’re one win away from a World Series and we can’t be more happy than to be here and play with this team,” said Vázquez, who arrived for his postgame press conference still wearing eye black and the T-shirt he wore under his jersey.
“Five more wins to get a championship.”
Trading Vázquez left many Red Sox players questioning the direction of the team. The Sox quickly sank from postseason contention and finished buried in last place.
Maybe over time the Sox will benefit from the trade. For now, Vázquez is a game away from another World Series. The Sox did him a favor.