He faced them twice during the regular season and vanquished them each time. In the American League wild-card game at Yankee Stadium, he did the same, sending them spiraling toward a rare rebuild.
Because they have more money and are better managed than many teams, the Yankees’ rebuild resembled more of a retool. It lasted less than two years and never reached sub-.500 depths. Now, they are back in the AL Championship Series, again taking on Keuchel and the Astros beginning Friday at Minute Maid Park.
This a series not lacking for story lines. Aaron Judge and Jose Altuve, each team’s star, are separated by a foot in height. Already, these playoffs have provided immediate and glorious redemption for Yankees manager Joe Girardi. And Houston hopes this series will be a testament to the proven postseason leadership of veteran ex-Yankees Carlos Beltran and Brian McCann.
There’s also the matter of the Yankees even being here.
In the two years since Keuchel sentenced them to irrelevance, they have traded for, traded away, and re-signed the same player: closer Aroldis Chapman. They have watched two prospects, Judge and Gary Sanchez, flourish at the highest level to degrees some scouts doubted possible. They have witnessed a resurgence from one of the game’s most revered starting pitchers, CC Sabathia, who was long ago determined to be done.
So, these are not the same Yankees thrice ravaged by Keuchel during a Cy Young-winning season. Girardi has withstood change, and his own occasional missteps — including famously deciding not challenge a call in the division series against the Cleveland Indians. Of the five Yankees who played in the 2015 AL wild-card game and are likely to be in Friday’s lineups, two are Astros.
“Nobody expected us to make the playoffs,” said Brett Gardner, in his 10th season the longest-tenured Yankee. “Nobody expected us to knock off the Indians.”
Gardner admitted that he also was skeptical, even though he said he began to realize the Yankees’ potential after they won 15 games in April without Sanchez and Didi Gregorius, two of their young stars.
Keuchel watched the Yankees’ win Wednesday’s ALDS clincher. He said he was only observing to see where he’d be pitching Friday. If the Indians won, the Astros would have left for Cleveland at 10 a.m Thursday, but he decided to delay packing his bags until the game finished.
The Yankees will match Masahiro Tanaka against Keuchel on Friday. Luis Severino will start in Game 2, Sabathia in Monday’s Game 3, and Sonny Gray in Tuesday’s Game 4.
The Astros will follow Keuchel with Justin Verlander. The rest of their rotation is uncertain, like the Yankees’ future was for a year or so.
Now, the Yankees will be considered playoff contenders for the next several years, their payroll bound to ascend, other prospects certain to establish themselves. This was their one gift season, one played without expectations.
Houston’s future seems similar. The teams will now fight to determine their present.
Two years ago, Houston Astros left-hander Dallas Keuchel dominated the New York Yankees. He faced them twice in the regular season and vanquished them each time. In the American League wild-card game at Yankee Stadium, he did the same, sending them spiraling toward a rare rebuild.
Follow Pedro Moura on Twitter @pedromoura