The threat died when the next batter, Gary Sanchez, a heavy hitter who is also heavy-legged, was unable to beat out a bouncer to third, ending the inning.
It was the 28th time in his career that Ellsbury had reached on a catcher’s interference, a number exceeded only by Pete Rose, who had 29 in a 24-year career and more than 15,000 plate appearances, roughly three times Ellsbury’s total so far.
“I never know when it’s going to happen, and it’s not like it’s something I’m trying to do,” Ellsbury said. “I wish I could’ve drove the ball into the gap in that situation and scored three more runs. But we got one, I guess.”
That was all they would get until the dramatic ending of the game, when Sanchez, batting with runners at second and third and two out in the ninth, singled to left. Aaron Hicks scored easily from third, but Ellsbury, running on contact, was gunned down at the plate by Jake Marisnick, who had come into the game as a defensive replacement in the seventh.
“You have to take that shot,” Manager Joe Girardi said. “It took a perfect throw to get him. If it’s less than two outs, you don’t do it. But it’s the right call, and he made a perfect throw.”
But the real gaffe that essentially decided this game came in the first inning, when the second batter, Josh Reddick, lofted what appeared to be a routine fly to shallow center field. Shortstop Didi Gregorius, his back to the plate, raced toward center, and Ellsbury, who had been playing deep, got what appeared to be a late start in. He never got closer than three steps from Gregorius, who was unable to hold the ball as it glanced off his glove.
Two batters later, Carlos Correa homered off Michael Pineda to give the Astros a 2-0 lead. They added another run on a single by George Springer in the fifth. That was all Keuchel needed.
“I go as hard as I can until someone calls me off,” Gregorius said. “He never called me off.”
Ellsbury owned up to his culpability on the play. “Looking back, I probably should’ve called it even though maybe I would’ve had to slide,” he said. “It was a tough play. But I guess, I should’ve just called it.”
Girardi, never one to overtly criticize a player, had no choice but to agree. Asked if he thought it was Ellsbury’s ball, Girardi said: “It’s a really tough play for Didi. So yes.”
Those three plays negated what could have been a rare night for the Yankees against Keuchel, who has been virtually unbeatable for them for the past two seasons (though they did defeat him, 2-1, last July 25 in Houston).
But while Keuchel’s 4-2 record against them is decent but not overwhelming, his E.R.A. is a minuscule 1.41, and if you add in the six shutout innings he turned in against them in the 2015 wild-card playoff game, it drops to 1.24.
This night, however, was not one of Keuchel’s best. Despite cruising through the first four innings on 40 pitches, the Yankees forced him into deep counts in the fifth and sixth, driving his pitch count up to 97 and starting him off with runners at first and third with none out in the sixth.
But using his trademark sliders and disappearing changeup, Keuchel was able to strike out Aaron Judge, Chase Headley and Gregorius to end the inning. He wound up allowing no earned runs — the run that scored on the catcher’s interference was unearned, even though Ellsbury was credited with an R.B.I. — and giving up five hits while striking out nine.
“He’s been pitching great this year,” Girardi said of Keuchel, who was named the American League Pitcher of the Month for April and is now 6-0 with 1.69 E.R.A. after a subpar 2016 season. “He’s back to where he was in 2015.”
First baseman GREG BIRD, on the disabled list since May 2 with a bone bruise on his right ankle, was examined by the team doctor CHRISTOPHER AHMAD and was determined not to be ready to resume baseball activities. Bird had been shut down for seven to 10 days and still feels pain in the ankle, which he fouled a ball off in the final week of spring training. “Bone bruises are tricky,” JOE GIRARDI said. “We were hoping a week to 10 days, but it’s going to be a little longer.”