Juan Soto changed everything, Yankees get every break in last inning of Houston sweep

He did it. He really did it. Again. They all did.

New York Yankees v Houston Astros
New York Yankees v Houston Astros / Tim Warner/GettyImages
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Juan Soto altered the dynamics of the 2024 Yankees entirely, which you knew long before he strode to the plate in the ninth inning against Josh Hader, throwing for the third time in four days.

None of those three appearances came in save situations, though, thanks in large part to Soto's heroics and the message he's communicated to the rest of the roster. So far, that message -- patience, poise, taking things personally and making people pay -- has been received.

Through four games in Houston, the 2024 Yankees have played like a team that took 2023 to heart, embarrassed by their uncharacteristically lackluster effort, then went out and acquired Soto to remake themselves in his image. Out went Dillon Lawson and any semblance of his system. In came the ability to, suddenly, hit strikes hard, after working counts like great Yankee teams of old.

In came defense, too; instead of shoving Willie Calhoun and Jahmai Jones types into the field out of necessity, they targeted Alex Verdugo in left and Jon Berti as a utility man (just in time, 24 hours before the opener).

Every element of the revised 2024 Yankees came into play Sunday, culminating in Soto facing Hader, already in for his third outing of the season already. Down one on Opening Day. Down two Saturday night. And then, thanks to Soto, down one when the dust settled in Sunday's finale.

Yankees sweep Astros, Juan Soto delivers tie-breaking single off Josh Hader

Then, after Gleyber Torres stole second, sprinted for third, and scored on a liner he would've had no business scoring on otherwise, things began to get really strange.

We've seen Yankees superstars deliver in Houston. Not often enough, but we've seen it. Judge to right-center off Justin Verlander in 2019 Game 2, DJ LeMahieu in Game 6, Giancarlo Stanton in Game 1 (before disappearing).

What we've never seen is a game begin to unravel and fail to get all the way there. The Soto effect. Three wins deep, nobody was panicking with runners on first and second, nobody out, and the key Astros hitters coming up against a partially warm Clay Holmes, also making his third appearance of the season.

First, it was Berti, who lunged down the line and corralled a Jose Altuve hotshot for the inning's first out (and so much more).

Then, it was the foul line in left field. Alex Verdugo watched Yordan Álvarez slice one down the line, and the only thing fans could see was the left fielder throwing his arms into the air to indicate a harmless baseball out of play. He was right; the ball fell inches foul, which the universe couldn't possibly have allowed between 2017-2023. Holmes, somehow, snuck a heater off the edge of Álvarez's bat later in the at-bat; Aaron Judge ran it down.

Then came Verdugo again, charging hard on a Kyle Tucker line drive, a carbon copy of Andrew Benintendi ending Game 4 of the 2018 ALCS for the eventual World Champion Red Sox. He closed with purpose. He closed, knowing he was going to finish the job. So did Holmes. Already, so did the fans, shaking off a half-decade-plus of being jaded in favor of something that feels so much better.

So did Soto, who heard the boos and wants more. Perhaps Oswaldo Cabrera was taking notes in the corner of the dugout on how to react to negative energy. Goodness knows he's learned plenty already.

Overreacting to four games? No. Of course not. No one's crowning this team -- and the fact that the world refuses to should continue to motivate them, based on what we've already seen. But only four Yankees teams since 1950 have started the season 4-0. This one did it in Houston, where they've met their demise in 2017, 2019, and 2022 (not to mention the 2015 Wild Card Game). The Yankees have played a surprisingly large role in Houston's current scuffles at home, defeating them three times last September, too, in the Jasson Dominguez series.

That makes seven straight, and the second half of that remarkable page-turn is thanks in large part to Soto. Based on how much the team has learned from him already ... imagine when Dominguez comes back?

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