NEW YORK — The crowd at Yankee Stadium was loud from the first pitch of Game 4 of the American League Championship Series on Thursday night. They knew the home team needed a lift after consecutive losses against the Houston Astros.
But the steady buzz of support dissolved into fits of aggravated booing as the Astros put together an 8-3 victory.
The Yankees committed four errors, struck out 13 times and were 0 for 7 with runners in scoring position. Three-run homers by George Springer and Carlos Correa put the Astros a victory away from their second World Series in three years.
It gets worse for the Yankees. Houston has Justin Verlander ready for Game 5 on Friday night with a chance to close out the series. He faced the Yankees in Game 2 and allowed two runs over 6⅔ innings.
What little positive energy remaining in the Stadium vanished in the eighth inning when CC Sabathia was escorted off the field by an athletic trainer after suffering a shoulder injury while throwing a pitch to George Springer.
It was very likely the final moment of a Hall of Fame-worthy career for Sabathia, who announced his retirement prior to the season. Yankees manager Aaron Boone said Sabathia would likely be replaced on the roster before Game 5.
That would make him ineligible for the World Series if the Yankees pulled off a comeback.
The 39-year-old lefthander pitched 19 seasons in the majors, the final 11 for the Yankees. Sabathia won 251 games and struck out 3,093.
Outside of small groups of Astros fans behind the visitors’ dugout, Yankee Stadium was almost empty as the game ended. It brought to mind Game 3 of the Division Series last season when the Red Sox beat the Yankees, 16-1.
It was an embarrassing and depressing night for the Yankees.
“We played poorly tonight. There’s no other way to explain it,” Boone said. “We need to flush this immediately. We talked about it as a team, we need to get over this in a hurry and come put our best foot forward tomorrow. Stranger things have certainly happened. A lot stranger.”
The Yankees have scored only six runs in the last three games after a 7-0 victory in Game 1. They are hitless in 13 at-bats with runners in scoring position in the last two games.
This by a team that led the majors with a .294 batting average and .890 OPS with runners in scoring position during the season.
The Yankees scored a run in the first inning against Zack Greinke, who didn’t have command of his fastball and walked Brett Gardner with the bases loaded.
Then Springer connected off Masahiro Tanaka in the third inning and Correa off Chad Green in the sixth.
Gary Sánchez, who was 2 of 23 in the postseason, hit a two-run homer for the Yankees in the sixth inning. But poor defense by the Yankees gave the Astros runs in the eighth and ninth.
The Yankees had not committed four errors in a postseason game since 1976.
From a pitching standpoint, the big moment for Houston came in the fifth inning. After Greinke put two runners on with one out, former Red Sox minor leaguer Ryan Pressly walked Aaron Hicks to load the bases then struck out Gleyber Torres swinging at a slider and Edwin Encarnacion swinging at a fastball.
“Pressly is really good. The power breaking ball I thought was going to be really good during that group of hitters,” Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. “Torres had killed Greinke over the last couple games, too. I was well aware of that.
Houston’s bullpen held the Yankees to two runs over 4⅔ innings.
“The best thing we did was put Game 1 behind us,” Houston right fielder Josh Reddick said. “We have a great pitching staff and to come in here and take two games, it was a big momentum swing.”
A victory on Friday would give the Astros three days off before hosting the Washington Nationals in Game 1 of the World Series on Tuesday.
It also would allow them to start Gerrit Cole, Greinke and Verlander in the first three games against Washington’s trio of Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Patrick Corbin.
“Getting that win [Friday] would give us some time to spend with our families and have some light workouts,” Reddick said. “That would be huge. We still have work to do.”
Peter Abraham can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter@peteabe.