NEW YORK — DJ LeMahieu drove Justin Verlander’s second pitch over the wall, then Aaron Hicks sent the fans at Yankee Stadium into a frenzy with a three-run homer off the foul pole later in the first inning.
And just like that, the Bronx Bombers were back — in the game, and in this matchup of powerhouses.
A day after a brutal loss, and with little margin for more errors, the New York Yankees played like a 103-victory team.
Yankees pitcher James Paxton, a former Mariner, chilled Houston’s bats and the bullpen followed with shutdown relief to beat the Astros 4-1 Friday night, cutting their AL Championship Series deficit to 3-2.
“I wasn’t ready to go home yet,” Paxton said, “so I wanted to go out and give my team everything I had and just battle away.”
The best-of-seven series resumes Saturday night without a day off. With pitching plans disrupted by a rainout earlier this week, both teams are expected to go all-bullpen in Game 6.
But Gerrit Cole, 19-0 since May, looms as the Astros’ starter Sunday if New York manages to prolong the matchup to the limit.
“We’ve just got to go back home and finish the job,” Houston shortstop Carlos Correa said.
After lasting a mere 21/3 innings in Game 2, Paxton struck out nine in six innings, allowing four hits and four walks. Punching his pitching hand into his glove after big strikeouts, he saved his biggest emotion for his 112th and final pitch: a fly out by Robinson Chirinos that Brett Gardner caught in front of the left-field scoreboard with a runner on.
Zack Britton retired Michael Brantley and Alex Bregman to escape trouble after Houston put on two runners in the seventh against Tommy Kahnle, then struck out two in a perfect eighth inning.
Yankees closer Aroldis Chapman finished with a 1-2-3 ninth.
Paxton outpitched Verlander, an eight-time All-Star and former AL most valuable player and Cy Young Award winner.
Verlander allowed a pair of first-inning homers for the first time in 28 postseason starts and gave up four runs in an inning for the first time since Houston acquired him from Detroit in August 2017.
“Fastball command wasn’t very good, and the slider was just hanging,” Verlander said.
Verlander retired 10 in a row after Hicks’ homer and wound up allowing five hits in seven innings, with nine strikeouts and no walks.
“We took advantage of his missed locations when he was a little vulnerable,” LeMahieu said. “And that’s the difference in the game.”
A night after the Yankees made four errors in one of their messier games of the season during an 8-3 loss, Paxton fell behind after 14 pitches. George Springer reached on an infield hit, took second on Gary Sanchez’s passed ball, advanced on a ground out and scored when Paxton bounced a breaking ball off Sanchez’s glove for a wild pitch.
“A lot of nerves,” Paxton said. “I was just overthrowing a little bit early.”
New York came out swinging against Verlander, who had been 4-0 with a 2.38 earned-run average against the Yankees in seven postseason starts.
LeMahieu fouled off a pitch, then drove a fastball 355 feet to left for New York’s first leadoff homer since Derek Jeter in the 2009 ALCS against the Angels.
Aaron Judge singled and Gleyber Torres doubled. Verlander struck out Giancarlo Stanton, who went 0 for 3 without two strikeouts after missing three games with a strained right quadriceps.
Hicks, sidelined for more than two months by a right- elbow injury before returning for the ALCS, fell behind 0-2, took three straight balls and sent a chest-high slider down the right-field line. He turned and watched the ball, took a half-dozen slow steps toward first and started jogging after it clanked off the pole for his first home run since July 24.
New York had never hit a pair of first-inning homers in 404 previous postseason games. Verlander could only crouch on the infield grass in frustration as Hicks circled the bases.
Hicks ended a stretch of 15 straight hitless at-bats for the Yankees with runners in scoring position. New York has relied on the long ball, scoring 12 of its 17 runs against the Astros on seven homers.
Sabathia’s career comes to an end
CC Sabathia walked into Yankee Stadium’s interview room with his left arm in a sling Friday, about 16 hours after walking off the mound in pain following the 58,692nd and final pitch of his major-league career.
That powerful left shoulder — which earned six All-Star appearances, the 2007 AL Cy Young Award and possibly a spot in the Hall of Fame — finally had given out.
“I think it’s just kind of fitting,” he said. “I threw until I couldn’t anymore.”
His burly body — 6 feet 6, at least 300 pounds — had echoed the decision he announced last winter.
No second thoughts about retirement after 19 major-league seasons. No temptation for more, the 39-year-old explained to his wife, Amber.
Sabathia dislocated a joint in his pitching shoulder during the eighth inning of New York’s Game 4 loss to Houston on his 17th pitch, then pushed his arm through three more before the torment became too great. He was dropped from the Yankees’ AL Championship Series roster Friday before Game 5 and replaced by right-hander Ben Heller.
Sabathia said he will have an MRI to determine whether he needs surgery.
“I was in a pretty good amount of pain last night and today. Waking up, I didn’t sleep that good,” Sabathia said.
Teammates and opponents praised him.
“CC is such a big man and big personality of a big man,” said Houston manager AJ Hinch, who caught Sabathia during spring training with Cleveland in 2003.
Sabathia finished with a 251-161 regular season record and 3,093 strikeouts. He made four trips to the injured list this year because of knee problems.