Juan Soto delivers in the clutch again as Yankees secure 4-game sweep of Astros to open season

HOUSTON — Juan Soto couldn’t help but laugh on Saturday night.

The superstar, fresh off his third game as a Yankee, had just provided the go-ahead run in a 5-3 win over the Astros by shooting a solo homer into the Crawford Boxes at Minute Maid Park. Having already contributed a game-saving throw on Opening Day and a three-hit night in Game 2, Soto took a second to bask in his success after a few days of being booed by fans of the Yankees’ nemesis.

“It’s fun,” a smiling Soto said of hitting in the Astros’ home.

The 25-year-old continued to enjoy himself on Sunday, collecting three singles in the series finale. The last, shot the other way off ex-Padres teammate Josh Hader, drove in the go-ahead run in the ninth inning.

“We all know what he likes and how good he is,” Soto said of Hader, a fire-balling southpaw who presents a nightmare matchup for most left-handed batters. “But definitely when you’re in there, there’s no mercy. I know and I like you. You were my teammate, but when we’re in there, there’s no friends no more.”

With Soto at the center of the action once again, the Yankees won, 4-3, and opened their season by sweeping their rivals over four games.

“I always want to be up in that situation,” Soto said. “That’s what we play for. We all know there’s gonna be times that we do fail and sometimes you’re gonna have success. But I always want to be up there. I don’t mind to be up there and get all the boos or all the claps. I’m always ready for it.”

Before Soto’s latest heroics, the Yankees started the scoring in the second inning when a Jose Trevino bloop single plated Giancarlo Stanton, who had previously doubled. A two-bagger from Anthony Rizzo then set Jon Berti up for an RBI single in the fourth frame.

Berti, acquired from the Marlins the day before Opening Day, was a late addition to the lineup after Anthony Volpe was scratched with an upset stomach.

Aaron Judge, who has gotten off to a slow start this season, added a sac fly in the fifth.

The Astros first crossed the plate in the third inning when Jose Altuve hit a solo shot off Clarke Schmidt. Kyle Tucker later knocked the right-hander out of the game with an RBI double down the right-field line in the sixth. Jonathan Loáisiga took over for Schmidt, but the starter was charged with another run when Yainer Diaz picked up an RBI single against the reliever.

All in all, Schmidt totaled 5.1 innings, seven hits, three earned runs, zero walks, five strikeouts and 75 pitches in his season debut. While the pitcher cruised prior to Altuve’s dinger, the Astros had eight hard-hit balls against Schmidt.

“He threw the ball well,” manager Aaron Boone said. “He was ahead in the count. I thought stuff was really good. I thought he was sharp.”

Things got dicey in the ninth inning as Clay Holmes worked himself into a jam. However, with the tying run on third, Alex Verdugo made a sliding grab on Tucker’s opposite-field flair. The dramatic final out secured the sweep.

“The ninth inning was obviously electric,” Verdugo said. “The Astros fans do a really good job of making it really loud. It was one of those things, adrenaline was definitely flowing. It was very close to that playoff feel. For us, the adrenaline was hyped and we were trying to do anything we can to make the play.”

With opening weekend out of the way, the Yankees will head west for a three-game series against the Diamondbacks. Arizona, fueled by a core that includes Corbin Carrol, the reigning National League Rookie of the Year, and Zac Gallen, a Cy Young finalist, shocked the baseball world with a trip to the Fall Classic in 2023.

The Snakes pose a tough assignment for Luis Gil, who will make his season debut on Monday. Gil has not pitched in a major league game since May 12, 2022 thanks to Tommy John surgery. However, Gerrit Cole’s elbow inflammatio n opened a spot in the Yankees’ rotation, and Gil earned it by recording a 2.87 ERA with 23 strikeouts over 15.2 innings this spring.

Ryne Nelson will pitch for the Diamondbacks in the series opener. A rookie in 2023, the righty ended up with a 5.31 ERA over 144 innings.

Now Nelson gets to face a sizzling Yankees squad in his first start of the season.

“Anytime you can go on the road against a great opponent and pull off a four-game sweep, that’s nothing to sneeze at,” Boone said. “I’m really excited. It makes for a good flight to Arizona against another really good team. We just got to keep going. Definitely any time you get a sweep on the road against a great opponent, it’s a little extra sweet.”