Yankees outfielder takes Verlander deep in ALCS Game 1 loss
HOUSTON — It’s like Harrison Bader is making up for lost time.
After missing most of the regular season with a foot injury, the Yankees’ outfielder has turned into one of the club’s most important contributors in October, and he did it again in Wednesday’s 4-2 ALCS Game 1 loss against the Astros.
• ALCS Game 2, presented by loanDepot: Tonight, 7:30 ET on TBS
Bader hit his fourth home run of the 2022 postseason, a solo shot off Astros ace Justin Verlander in the second inning at Minute Maid Park. It’s been a welcome development in a year that saw him depart from the Cardinals after six years while also dealing with a lingering ailment.
“Honestly, for me, all year just being hurt and complaining about what I had going on, I’m just really relieved to be able to be in a position where I can physically feel good and contribute to a Major League club,” Bader said after the game. “Because I wasn’t doing that with the Cardinals.”
The outfielder was acquired by the Yankees in a somewhat eye-popping Deadline trade that sent lefty Jordan Montgomery to St. Louis. Bader was still sidelined at the time.
“I respect their trade and the decision they made from a professional standpoint,” he said on Wednesday. “For me, I just was always looking forward to getting healthy, getting ready [and]I always knew I would. Now, I get to do it in pinstripes. So to me, it just means a lot.”
It took Bader a while to find consistency at the plate after being activated from the IL in late September. But the Bronxville, N.Y., native has taken every at-bat as a new opportunity, and that mentality has been key in this latest power surge.
“I don’t really view it as a hot streak,” Bader said. “[I] had a bunch of at-bats towards the end of the regular season, kind of working through some stuff and found my groove, found some rhythm. Every at-bat is a clean slate. So, you know, I don’t really view it as a linear thing.”
Very little is linear in October baseball.
Bader had never hit a postseason homer before this year, despite appearing in 10 playoff contests with the Cardinals from 2019-21. This is the first time in the 28-year-old’s career in which he’s homered four times in a six-game span, and his four blasts are the most ever in a player’s first six postseason games as a Yankee.
“He’s a good player,” said Yankees first baseman Anthony Rizzo. “He’s a good hitter, he’s very good defensively and he’s got a really short swing. That’s just him being himself, and that’s a beauty to see.”
Wednesday’s solo shot was the only blemish in Verlander’s stat sheet, as the Cy Young Award favorite dominated the Yankees through six innings of one-run, 11-strikeout ball.
Bader’s homer traveled a projected 411 feet to left-center field to give the Yankees a 1-0 lead against Houston. The outfielder is now batting .263 with a 1.259 OPS and five RBIs in the 2022 postseason, a perennial threat in a Yankees lineup that has had its ups and downs.
“[I] try to keep it fresh,” said Bader. “Especially with the amount of emotion, if you will, that’s going on between pitches.”
There was a lot of that in Houston on Wednesday night.
The Yankees failed to hold on to their early lead, in large part due to the dominance of Verlander and the Astros’ bullpen, which allowed one earned run on two hits and a walk over three frames.
It made Bader’s feat all the more impressive to those watching from the dugout.
“That’s why we got him,” said fellow outfielder Aaron Judge. “Not only for the key defensive ability, to go out there and run down center field, but he has just consistent at-bats and [can]put the ball all over the park. It doesn’t matter if it’s two strikes or if he’s up in the count. He’s always trying to go up there and do something special.”
Bader will get a crucial chance to exercise his clean-slate approach on Thursday, as the Yankees look to even up the series in Game 2 and head back to New York with momentum on their side.