HOUSTON -- As the ball left Todd Frazier's bat, he thought it was a home run and Game 6 of the American League Championship Series was going to be tied.
But the Yankees lost out on their chance to get to Astros ace Justin Verlander in that seventh inning, as Frazier's deep drive to left-center was snared by center fielder George Springer, who made a terrific leaping catch at the wall to rob Frazier of extra bases with two on and one out. Verlander escaped his final inning unscathed and Houston went on to a 7-1 win to force a deciding Game 7 on Saturday in the ALCS presented by Camping World.
"Right off the bat, I could've sworn it was going out," Frazier said. "If you play long enough, you basically know if it's going to go or not, and it was one of the best balls I squared up this whole postseason. I guess it just died and I didn't get enough."
Frazier wasn't exactly wrong in expecting a home run, as the ball left the bat at 102.8 mph at a launch angle of 28 degrees, and balls hit at those numbers go for home runs roughly 70 percent of the time, per Statcast™. The ball went a projected 403 feet and had a hit probability of 81 percent. It was the first "barreled" ball of the night for either club.
"I thought homer," Verlander admitted. "All you can do as a pitcher is watch the outfielder track it and track it and track it. But he was able to reel it in and keep it inside the yard. So that was obviously one of the big turning moments in the game."
Astros manager A.J. Hinch was also among those who thought the game was going to be knotted at 3 on Verlander's 95th pitch of the night.
"I thought it was out," Hinch said. "That's the deepest part of the yard, and I've seen a lot of balls carry. And I've seen him hit one-arm or one-handed swings this series and the ball carry out of the ballpark. When he jumped and made the play, there was a huge roar and a big momentum play."
Springer felt like he got a good read off the bat and raced back to the wall near the 404-foot sign in left-center, jumping to make the catch, inciting delirium among the 43,179 fans at the ballpark.
"He hit the ball well, and I knew I had to go get it," Springer said. "I was just able to get to the spot. It's a situation there where you can't drift. You just have to go get it, and I was able to get back to it and haul it in."
Verlander found himself in that situation after walking Greg Bird on six pitches and plunking Starlin Castro with an inside fastball that was confirmed by replay. Verlander then had a 10-pitch battle with Aaron Hicks that raised his pitch count to ensure it would be his last inning after throwing 124 pitches in his previous start. But after Hicks fouled off a 3-2 slider down the right-field line, Verlander went to it again and got the strikeout.
"When I look back at the 3-2 slider to Hicks, that was probably the pitch of the game for me," Verlander said. "If I don't execute that and he takes it or, you know, worse, then it's a totally different ballgame."
Once Verlander retired Frazier, he faced the red-hot Chase Headley. And he promptly fell behind with a 2-0 count, but he went to his slider for a called strike before getting Headley to ground to second on another slider with the shift on to escape the jam. Hinch went to his bullpen from there, and Verlander finished with seven scoreless innings, scattering five hits and a walk with eight strikeouts to lower his ERA this series to 0.56.
"Those last pitches were pretty high stress," Hinch said. "That was an incredible play by George in center field, and for Verlander to come back and get the last out, I felt like that was enough. I wasn't giving him a long leash going into the eighth. But I'm so proud of him, because I know how much it means to him. I know how much he puts into these outings. He chose to come here for games like this and beyond. We hope we all get to see him pitch again."
Rhett Bollinger has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @RhettBollinger and Facebook. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.