Yankees offense disappears as Astros halt winning streak at nine

HOUSTON — The Yankees’ biggest problem Monday night was on the mound, but it wasn’t their struggling right-hander Sonny Gray.

Instead it was the Astros’ Charlie Morton, the same pitcher who helped usher the Yankees into last year’s offseason with a masterful effort in Game 7 of the ALCS and denied them a trip to the World Series.

In his sixth start of the season, Morton not only stopped the Yankees nine-game winning streak he smothered the visitors on the way to a 2-1 victory that was witnessed by a Minute Maid Park crowd of 30,061.

“Great stuff combined with locating pitches, he was terrific,’’ Aaron Boone said of the 34-year-old Morton, who improved to 4-0 by allowing a run, two hits and striking out 10 in 7 ²/₃ innings. “He was really good tonight, electric stuff and he commanded it pretty much how he wanted to.’’

Yankees batters struck out a season-high 14 times Monday, one night after striking out 13 times in the series finale against the Angels.

Until Austin Romine’s one-out single to right in the sixth inning, the only Yankee base runners were Gleyber Torres in the third and Gary Sanchez in the fourth via walks. Torres’ two-out double in the eighth forced Morton out of the game and Brett Gardner’s single off Chris Devenski cut the deficit to 2-1. With runners on first and second, Didi Gregorius struck out on an offspeed pitch, the Yankees’ nine-game winning streak was halted and Gregorius hitless streak stretched to 10 at-bats since hitting a game-winning homer Friday in extra innings at Anaheim.

The loss dropped the second-place Yankees (18-10) three lengths back of the AL East-leading Red Sox.

Moral victories have no place in sports at any level and certainly not in the big leagues. Improvement, however, has a spot and the only way to look at Gray’s night was through that lens.

Considering that Boone said he saw improvement after Gray’s previous start against the Twins, when he gave up three runs and six hits in 4 ²/₃ innings, the right-hander allowing two runs and four hits in six frames was indeed an uptick.

“It’s a step in the right direction, personally,’’ said Gray, who gave up a run in the first when he was called for a balk and another in the fourth when he left the bases loaded. “Unfortunately, Morton was a lot better. That’s a tough one to swallow.’’

Since Gray’s numbers are better throwing to Romine than they are working with Gary Sanchez, Boone and Gray are often asked if he would consider pairing Gray and Romine on a consistent basis. Boone said when the schedule dictated it — like night games after day games or night games before day games — he would think about it.

“I feel good on the mound right now, see where that goes next start,’’ said Gray, who is schedule to start Saturday day against the Indians after a Friday night tilt. “I don’t know.’’

Gray is 1-1 with a 3.92 ERA in four games working with Romine who is considered an overall better defensive catcher than Sanchez by many but doesn’t hit like Sanchez. Gray is 0-1 with a 15.63 ERA in two starts with Sanchez behind the plate.

Gray noted Romine’s ability to adapt to change as the game flows but said it’s on him to be able to pitch to whoever Boone starts.

“Ultimately, it’s for me personally, I want to feel comfortable no matter what,’’ said Gray, who is 1-2 with a 6.67 ERA.

While comfort eluded Yankee hitters when Morton was on the mound, Romine wasn’t wrong in assessing Gray’s game.

“He gave us a chance to win the game, that’s all you can ask,’’ Romine said.

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