The Yankees, who were also shut out in Game 7, a 4-0 loss, managed their only run on Monday in the eighth inning after Morton had departed. They looked nothing like the offense that leads baseball in runs, home runs, on-base percentage and extra-base hits.
Houston’s closer Ken Giles, who had a jittery October, struck out the side in the ninth, but the star of the night was Morton, a journeyman who seems to have been transformed by his performance in Game 7 last year.
Morton dominated the Los Angeles Dodgers twice in the World Series, including closing out the clinching Game 7, and has picked up where he left off this season. With Monday’s win, he improved to 4-0 and lowered his earned run average to 1.72.
“The one thing that jumps out when he pitches — when you saw him last post-season, when you see him this year — is the stuff is electric, and the game plan now, I think, has been really tightened up,” Yankees Manager Aaron Boone said. “He’s a lot to deal with, especially when he’s on.”
Morton could not have been finer on Monday night.
He did not allow a hit until Austin Romine poked a 1-2 fastball past first baseman Yuli Gurriel with one out in the sixth. Morton, who struck out 10 and walked two, was so dominant that the Yankees did not even hit a ball to the outfield until Neil Walker flied out to left for the second out in the eighth.
The only other hit Morton allowed was on his 102nd and final pitch of the night — a cutter that Gleyber Torres lined off the base of the left-field wall for a double.
Astros Manager A.J. Hinch called on Brad Peacock to face pinch-hitter Aaron Judge, who took a 3-2 slider off the plate for a walk. Torres stole third without a throw on the play, which paid off for the Yankees when Brett Gardner followed with a line single to right off Chris Devenski to cut the Astros’ lead to 2-1.
But Devenski kept the Yankees at bay by striking out Didi Gregorius on three pitches. Gregorius, who was named the American League player of the week earlier in the day, is 0 for 11 since his game-winning home run against the Angels on Friday night.
The Yankees had a fine pitching performance of their own, as starter Sonny Gray, who entered Monday with a 7.71 E.R.A., kept them in the game with his best performance of the young season. Boone said the roadmap for Gray to get himself back on track was simple.
“It starts with strike one, getting ahead in the count, and then he can start to use all his weapons,” Boone said. “And when that’s the case, we feel like he’s a dynamic pitcher.”
Boone’s analysis turned out to be spot on.
In six innings, Gray’s night was defined almost entirely by whether or not he worked from ahead. When he got a first-pitch strike, Astros batters were 0 for 14. When he did not, Astros batters were 4 for 8 with three walks. And when Gray fell behind, he was reluctant to throw his fastball — something the Astros seemed to know.
The Astros took a 1-0 lead in the first after George Springer singled up the middle, took second on a balk and made his way home on two-strike groundouts by Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa.
Gray’s command seriously betrayed him only in the fourth when Altuve singled, Correa walked on a 3-2 slider and Gurriel hooked a 1-0 slider off the left-field wall for a double that scored Altuve.
But the Yankees held the Astros there. Walker threw out Correa at home on a grounder by Josh Reddick, and after a walk to Alex Bregman, Gray struck out Marwin Gonzalez and retired Brian McCann on a liner to right.
Still, it was all the Astros would need with Morton in top form.