Rangers hold off late Astros charge to take 2-0 ALCS lead
HOUSTON (AP) — No matter the place or the moment, the Texas Rangers are rolling right now.
Jonah Heim homered, Nathan Eovaldi pitched six effective innings and Texas beat Framber Valdez and the Houston Astros 5-4 on Monday for a 2-0 lead in the AL Championship Series.
The Rangers improved to 7-0 in the playoffs, including six wins on the road. They swept the Rays in the Wild Card Series and the Orioles in the Division Series and then posted a 2-0 win at Houston in the ALCS opener.
“It’s just baseball to us,” Texas third baseman Josh Jung said. “We’re jumping on teams early, and that helps us settle in. Our pitching has been outstanding. You can’t ask for anything more than what they’ve given us.”
Adolis García, Mitch Garver and Nathaniel Lowe each hit an RBI single during Texas' four-run first inning against Valdez, and José Leclerc closed it out for the Rangers after Yordan Alvarez powered an Astros rally.
Eovaldi struck out nine, including two in a row after Houston loaded the bases with none out in the fifth. He was charged with three runs and five hits in his third win this postseason.
“You’re talking about one of the elite pitchers in the game,” Texas manager Bruce Bochy said. “They have that ability to turn up a notch when they had to. We made an error, bases loaded, and it’s about picking each other up, and he picked us up there and made great pitches.”
Game 3 of the best-of-seven series is Wednesday night in Arlington.
The Rangers are the fifth team in MLB history and first since the Astros last season to win their first seven postseason games. Kansas City holds the record with an eight-game win streak to start the 2014 postseason.
The six straight road playoff wins by the Rangers is tied for the second-longest such streak in MLB history, behind an eight-game streak by the Yankees in 1996.
Alvarez hit two solo drives to become the sixth player in MLB history to have two multihomer games in one postseason. The second one was off Aroldis Chapman, trimming Houston's deficit to 5-4 with two out in the eighth.
Leclerc then came in and walked José Abreu and Michael Brantley, but Chas McCormick grounded out to end the threat.
Jeremy Peña flied out to deep right field for the first out in the Houston ninth. Yainer Diaz then grounded out and Jose Altuve flied to center, giving Leclerc his second save of the series.
The Astros, who went 39-42 at home in the regular season, continued to struggle at Minute Maid Park. The defending champions fell to 1-3 at home in the playoffs this year.
The Rangers jumped all over Valdez. Marcus Semien smacked the first pitch to center field for a single. Corey Seager singled to left on the second pitch before Valdez made two errors on one play.
Valdez bobbled a chopper hit by Robbie Grossman for an error that allowed him to reach first and Semien to score. His second error occurred when he badly overthrew first to move Grossman to second and Seager to third.
Valdez put his hands on his knees and shook his head at the end of the play.
García then hit a liner to right field to score Seager. Garver singled home another run before Valdez finally got his first out when he struck out Heim.
The Rangers weren’t done yet.
Lowe singled on a ground ball to left to make it 4-0. Valdez retired the next two batters to end the inning.
“I thought my pitches were good,” he said through a translator. “Maybe they got a little bit lucky. There were a couple of balls that weren't hit that well for base hits.”
Alex Bregman also homered for the Astros, who went 0 for 6 with runners in scoring position. Alvarez, who is dealing with an illness, looked much better than he did in Game 1 when he went 0 for 4 with three strikeouts.
He said he was feeling good Monday and deflected questions about his health.
“It was just something personal,” he said through a translator. “I don’t know how that got out. It didn’t come from me or the team.”
Valdez (0-2) allowed seven hits and five runs — four earned — in 2 2/3 innings in his second loss this postseason. It was his shortest start of the season.
The Astros missed a huge opportunity in the fifth. Brantley and McCormick hit back-to-back singles to open the inning before Peña reached on an error by Jung.
But Eovaldi escaped by striking out pinch-hitter Diaz and Altuve before Bregman grounded out.
“When I was ahead 1-2 (on Altuve) and I went with a high fastball and followed it up with the splitter. You’re close but you’re not out of the woods yet because Bregman is equally as talented,” Eovaldi said. “I was able to make a good pitch and get us out of the jam, and I felt like that was one of the turning points of the game.”
Alvarez walked with one out in the sixth before scoring on a two-out double by Brantley. Alvarez also hit a leadoff homer in the second into the second deck in right field.
Heim homered high off the wall in left field to push the lead to 5-1 with no outs in the third.
Max Scherzer will start for Texas in Game 3 after sitting out since Sept. 12 because of a muscle strain in his shoulder. It will be the fifth different team that the three-time Cy Young Award winner has pitched for in the postseason.
Cristian Javier starts for Houston after throwing five scoreless innings to get the win in Game 3 of the Division Series.
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