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Judge’s offense and defense help lift Yankees in ALCS Game 3

Yankees outfielder Aaron Judge hits a three-run home run in Game 3 of the ALCS against Houston on Oct. 16.
(Mike Stobe/Getty Images )

Three pitches into Monday’s fourth inning, Aaron Judge galloped onto Yankee Stadium’s warning track and hurtled into its right-field wall to retrieve a deep drive. As ball met glove, Judge’s oversized torso smashed into an advertisement that foretold the night’s events.

GREATNESS AWAITS, it read.

In the bottom of the inning, Judge ripped a three-run home run into the left-field seats, declaring his rise as a viable threat in this American League Championship Series and solidifying the New York Yankees’ 8-1 victory over Houston in its third game.

The Yankees benefited from strokes of luck that evaded them in the first two games of the series, both of which the Astros won 2-1 at home.

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The Yankees’ 300-pound, 37-year-old left-hander, CC Sabathia, supplied six scoreless innings, and even he sounded surprised.

“It’s weird,” Sabathia said. “Me being 37, smoke and mirrors, getting a shutout.”

Sabathia did it with wily placement and unimpressive velocity, extending far beyond his pitch-count governor of 75. His style of success frustrated the opposition but encouraged his teammates.

“Look at the size of him,” said Yankees third baseman Todd Frazier. “He looks like a bear out there just on the mound, just ready to pounce on somebody.”

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When Sabathia fooled Carlos Correa with a second-inning fastball that ran inside, Correa swung, missed, and nodded his head while making his way back to the dugout. When Sabathia easily fielded a tapper back from Josh Reddick to end the sixth, Reddick slammed his helmet, and Sabathia cursed the outfielder as he strutted off the mound. He ordered him to take a seat and stop talking.

“That was just me being me, man,” Sabathia said later, laughing.

Sabathia’s trouble was limited to the third, when he loaded the bases, then induced an inning-ending popup from Correa. New York already led 3-0 at that point.

Houston starter Charlie Morton’s curveball proved difficult to time for the Yankees’ left-handed hitters, but he did not throw the pitch to Aaron Hicks, their switch-hitting center fielder, in the second inning.

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Hicks shot a single into left field, with Starlin Castro already on base. Up came Frazier, who stands far from home plate, his body perpetually reared back and ready to unload. Power is his only offensive tool, but he deploys it well. When Morton fired a 1-and-1 fastball along the plate’s outer edge, Frazier reached out, closed his eyes, and pushed the baseball to right field, where the porch here is short. What would ordinarily be a flyout became a three-run home run.

“I was surprised that ball went out,” Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. “Only because of his swing type.”

For half a second before getting to first base, Frazier lifted both his legs from the dirt, his euphoria palpable. The New Jersey native happily pointed to his relatives seated in the bleachers who were unable to secure tickets in the family section. He later noted he’d ensure they remained there for Games 4 and 5, scheduled for Tuesday and Wednesday.

After Judge drew a one-out walk in the third inning, he took second when second baseman Jose Altuve stopped a sharp grounder from leaving the infield. The sequence allowed Judge and Altuve to stand next to each other for the first time this series. It will always be a spectacularly odd sight, one most-valuable-player candidate towering over the other, 13 inches and 117 pounds his lesser.

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That sequence did not lead to a run. What did was Cameron Maybin’s misplay in the fourth. He pursued Greg Bird’s deep fly all to the way to the left-field line, only to inexplicably let it bounce off the track two feet from him for a ground-rule double. A walk, a hit batter, and a single scored a run. After Hinch summoned relief for Morton, a wild pitch produced another.

A high fastball scored three more when Judge clubbed it into the stands.

Hours earlier, Yankees manager Joe Girardi predicted Judge could come alive if he saw a letter-high fastball or two.

Girardi used the blowout to provide once-dominant, currently wild reliever Dellin Betances a chance to find his way in the ninth, but Betances missed with his first five pitches, and the feel-good story turned lousy. When his sixth crossed the plate, what remained of the sold-out crowd of 49,373 fans broke out in a Bronx cheer. When Betances threw wildly three more times, they booed him off the mound.

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Tommy Kahnle entered and closer Aroldis Chapman began to warm. Finally, a double play ended it.

“If I was a fan and I saw what I’ve been doing,” Betances said, his voice trailing off. “I don’t blame the fans.”

pedro.moura@latimes.com

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Follow Pedro Moura on Twitter @pedromoura


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