HOUSTON — When the Yankees pulled into Minute Maid Park on April 8, they were nine games into the season and the drums already were beating loudly for a Yankees-Astros ALCS in October.
The hype was real because they turned out to be the best two teams in the American League and will play a best-of-seven with the winner going to the World Series.
Because the Astros won 107 games to the Yankees’ 103, the AL West champs could play four games at home where they were 60-21. The Yankees’ 57-24 record in The Bronx was the second-best in the AL.
“It is huge for us to start the ALCS against the Yankees here,’’ second baseman Jose Altuve said after an Astros workout. “The stadium is so loud.’’
The Astros, who are appearing in their third straight ALCS, are the betting choice to win at -$170 and even money to win a second World Series in three years. Game 1 is set for Saturday at 8:08 p.m.
“They’ve certainly kind of established themselves as the class of this league here the last few years,” manager Aaron Boone said of the Astros, who went 4-3 against the Yankees this season. “Hopefully we can ding it a little bit.’’
Boone flipped his starters’ order from the ALDS. Masahiro Tanaka will start Game 1 and James Paxton will work Game 2 Sunday. Like he did in the ALDS, Luis Severino will start Game 3 Tuesday at Yankee Stadium. Boone listed Game 4 as TBD.
“I felt like it was a good decision. Just felt like Masa here in Game 1 is the way I wanted to go in the end,’’ said Boone, who can bring Tanaka back for a Game 5 start at home, where he went 8-3 with a 3.10 ERA in 16 starts.
Zack Greinke, who gave up six runs and three homers in 3 ²/₃ innings in Game 3 against the Rays in the ALDS, starts for the Astros. He was 1-0 in two starts against the Yankees this year with a 2.13 ERA before being dealt to the Astros by Arizona on July 31 after he left a game against the Yankees in The Bronx. In 10 regular-season starts for the Astros, the right-hander went 8-1 with a 3.02 ERA.
Astros manager A.J. Hinch said Friday he will start Justin Verlander in Game 2 and Gerrit Cole in Game 3, which will be at Yankee Stadium.
As for facing Greinke, Verlander and Cole in three straight games, DJ LeMahieu wasn’t intimidated.
“Stay aggressive. I feel like we have beaten good pitching all year,’’ LeMahieu said.
Asked about the season-long hype of the ALCS being Astros-Yankees, Hinch acknowledge it was genuine.
“I think this is a matchup that a lot of people around baseball expected. And now we’re here. Seven-game series, there’s going to be a lot of emotion,’’ Hinch said. “This is a rivalry that’s been created over the last few years, and everybody will think back to the 2017 epic seven-game series and expect this to top it. I hope it does. And I hope it’s the same result. I liked celebrating at the end of that one.’’
The Yankees had a different take on that. In 2017, they lost two at Minute Maid Park, copped three wins at home and lost Games 6 and 7 in Houston to fall a game short of going to the World Series.
Brett Gardner understood a while ago the road to a World Series title would run through Houston.
“We figured we had to come through here if we wanted to get to where we wanted to be in the end,’’ Gardner said.
So, the Yankees want to use this as an avenue to reach the World Series for the first time since 2009, while the Astros attempt to get to the World Series for the second time in three seasons.
“People want to watch,’’ Astros shortstop Carlos Correa said. “It’s what they signed up for.’’