The sunny, blue skies that welcomed the Houston Astros and the New York Yankees to Yankee Stad ium on Tuesday afternoon provided a picturesque tableau for opening day.
But the vista belied the frigid conditions. When players arrived at the ballpark, the grass glistened in spots with ice. Heaters were cranked up in the dugout, the bullpen and even the bat rack so that hitters would not feel as if they were swinging frozen clubs. And the wind, blowing in, whipped the flags atop the stadium as vigorously as it did the baggy uniforms of the pitchers as they stood on the mound.
The temperature for the first pitch was 36 degrees, the coldest in the Bronx since 2003.
But by the time the afternoon ended, the Yankees were hot under the collar.
After squandering a lead against their nemesis, left-hander Dallas Keuchel, the Yankees lost to the Astros 5-3, their unraveling paved by a controversial call that left manager Joe Girardi furious enough that he played the game under protest.
Girardi’s beef was that Carlos Correa, who had earlier tied the score with a solo homer, should have been called out — and the go-ahead run returned to the bases — for running inside the baseline on his dribbler toward first base in the eighth inning.
Reliever Dellin Betances, trying to loft the ball over Correa, also overthrew first baseman Mark Teixeira, allowing Jose Altuve, who had walked to start the inning, to score from second.
The play brought Girardi charging out of the dugout, arguing with home plate umpire Dana DeMuth, pointing to grass inside the baseline and walking along it, making his case that he was following Correa’s footsteps. Eventually, DeMuth gathered the other four umpires, but the call remained unchanged.
The Astros added two more runs when Luis Valbuena stroked a two-run single — one pitch after he took a curveball from Betances that could have been called strike three. The cushion proved vital when Didi Gregorius hit a solo homer in the eighth.
The Yankees took an unaccustomed lead against Keuchel in the second inning when their new second baseman, Starlin Castro, hit a two-run double to left.
The two runs seemed like an embarrassingly rich windfall for the Yankees because they had gone 29 consecutive innings without scoring against Keuchel — a stretch that dated to 2014 and included six innings in a 3-0 loss to the Astros in the American League wild-card playoff last October.
The Yankees did not exactly batter Keuchel. They needed a confluence of little things to break through: Carlos Beltran beating the shift with a two-strike single just to the right of second base; shortstop Correa bobbling away the chance for an inning-ending double play; and Castro rifling a liner that was inches fair down the left-field line.
But they got little else from Keuchel, who retired the final 11 hitters he faced.
The way Keuchel finished is the way Masahiro Tanaka began.
Now in his third year since arriving from Japan, Tanaka has shown glimpses of providing the Yankees with a true ace, but they have often been fleeting. His performance Tuesday was a microcosm of his career here. He was superb early, keeping the Astros off balance and retiring the first nine batters.
Tanaka appeared ready to hand the lead off to the bullpen, but with two out in the sixth, Correa drove a 1-0 splitter into the right-field bleachers to tie the score, 2-2.
When Tanaka left, after following Correa’s home run with a walk to Colby Rasmus, it brought to the stage the Yankees’ bullpen, which was expected to be the best in baseball, but began the season with questions after the 30-game domestic violence suspension of newly acquired closer Aroldis Chapman and the broken toe of reliever Bryan Mitchell, who had surgery Monday and will be out at least four months.