HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- Thursday may become the biggest day of regular season baseball in Houston ever.
OK, that might be overselling it, but when the teams with the two best records in the American League clash, against a backdrop of animosity born out of the Astros' cheating scandal, hyperbole is appropriate.
The 'Stros have a rare-for-Minute Maid Park doubleheader on Thursday with their rivals, the New York Yankees. It's a position thrust upon both teams thanks to the MLB lockout earlier this season.
The Yanks were originally slated to be one of Houston's first two series to begin the 2022 season.
The delayed start shifted the New York-at-Houston series in an unconventional manner. The two teams played a one-game series on June 30, which the Astros won.
Editor's note: The video above is from a July 20 stream on the Astros' second-half outlook.
MLB schedule-makers decided to complete this particular series on a day that in the past would typically be an off-day throughout baseball for the All-Star break.
Nevertheless, Houston (59-32) sits 4.5 games behind the Yankees for not only first place in the AL, but for the best record in baseball.
A two-game sweep against a hated rival would be a monumental start to the second half of the season and Houston's bid to return to the World Series for a second straight year. At least one Astros win in the doubleheader would give Houston the edge over the Yankees in 2022.
Houston enters Thursday 3-2 against the Bronx Bombers, but every game they have played this season has been highly competitive from start to finish. New York's two victories over Houston came from walk-off hits.
You can surely expect a playoff atmosphere on a weekday in July.
So who are Houston's starting pitchers? And when do these games get underway?
Cristian Javier, who was the catalyst to the Astros' combined no-hitter against these same Yankees in the Bronx on June 25, starts the day game at 12:10 p.m. His opposing pitcher was not determined a day out from the game.
Houston's nighttime starter will be Luis Garcia, who pitched six innings of three-hit ball against the Yankees during that one-game home series last month. The opposing pitcher for the 5:40 p.m. game has also not been determined ahead of time.
In some hopeful news, Astros designated hitter Yordan Alvarez, who was forced to miss his All-Star Game debut with a hand injury, is reportedly expected to be activated in time for the doubleheader.