2023 ALCS: Montgomery, Carter Guide Rangers to Game One Shutout Victory over Astros

(Photo by Evan Thompson/Sport Relay)

Rangers 2, Astros 0; Rangers Lead Series, 1–0

HOUSTON, Oct. 15 — Jordan Montgomery tossed 6 1/3 scoreless innings to lead the Texas Rangers to a 2–0 victory over the Houston Astros in Game One of the 2023 American League Championship Series Sunday night. Rangers rookie Evan Carter, who scored one of the two runs, made several great catches in left field, including one that led to a back-breaking double play in the bottom of the eighth, to help preserve the shutout.

“He threw a heck of a game tonight,” Astros manager Dusty Baker said of Montgomery, saying his fastball was good and he was “throwing harder than I remember.”

Veteran Astros starting pitcher Justin Verlander pitched valiantly, scattering six hits across 6 2/3 innings while allowing two runs, one on a solo homer by center fielder Leody Taveras, who hits ninth. “They’ve been a prodigious offense all season long,” Verlander said of the Rangers. “You know your work is cut out for you.” Verlander added, “…a lineup like that is so deep that you can’t focus on a pocket of hitters and say, ‘If I don’t let them beat me, I’ll be good.’ Every one of their guys (can) beat you. You’ve got to be on your game, one through nine. If you’re not, they’ll make you pay.”

Rangers Take Advantage of Opportunities; Astros Do Not

The Rangers got on the board first but left runs on the table. A one-out hustle double to right by left fielder Evan Carter gave catcher Jonah Heim an RBI opportunity. He cashed in with a single to right-center, giving the Rangers a 1–0 lead. After a lineout to deep center by first baseman Nathaniel Lowe, third baseman Josh Jung singled to left. A walk by center fielder Leody Taveras loaded the bases for second baseman Marcus Semien, but a fly to the second baseman in shallow left ended the frame with the bases loaded. They extended their lead to 2–0 in the top of the fifth. Verlander hung a 1–2 slider down the middle to Taveras, who crushed it 398 feet into the right-field seats. “That was the only mistake that (Verlander) made,” Baker said, “and (Taveras) didn’t miss it.”

The Astros squandered scoring opportunities in both the third and fourth innings. In the third, a one-out walk by catcher Martin Maldonado and two-out single by third baseman Alex Bregman brought up designated hitter Yordan Alvarez with a runner in scoring position. But Montgomery got him to chase a shin-high 3–2 curveball to end the inning. In the fourth, the Astros loaded the bases on consecutive two-out singles by left fielder Chas McCormick, center fielder Mauricio Dubon, and shortstop Jeremy Pena. But Maldonado swung right through a letter-high 1–2 fastball to strand the runners.

A Key Double Play

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With two on and two out in the top of the seventh, Baker took the ball from Verlander and brought in Hector Neris, who retired Marcus Semien on a foul popup to the catcher. Montgomery exited stage right with one out and the bases empty in the seventh, giving way to Josh Sborz. Sborz retired Peña and Yainer Diaz, who hit for Maldonado, to end the seventh. Neris pitched a 1-2-3 top of the eighth. Sborz walked Jose Altuve to lead off the bottom half. In came Aroldis Chapman to pitch to Bregman, who represented the tying run. Bregman belted a 2–1 slider deep to left, a few feet into the notch on the center-field side of the Crawford Boxes. It initially looked like it might be a homer, but it died on the warning track. The hustling Carter made a leaping catch almost against the fence.

Altuve, who had taken one step past second, scrambled back to first in time to beat the throw coming in. However, he did not retouch second base on his way, and the Rangers saw it. They challenged, and after video review, Altuve was out. Alvarez ended the inning with a routine grounder to the first baseman.

The Ninth

Bryan Abreu pitched a 1-2-3 top of the ninth for the Astros, striking out two to keep the score at 2–0. Jose Leclerc, who became the closer in September, took the mound in the bottom of the ninth to close the game. “I tried to attack the strike zone,” Leclerc said. “When I’m not throwing strikes, I struggle.” He retired first baseman Jose Abreu and right fielder Kyle Tucker on a liner to center and grounder to second, respectively. That brought up McCormick, who struck out to end the game.

Leclerc was thrilled to close out the victory and give his team a 1–0 series lead in hostile territory. “I’m so excited to be here,” he beamed, “and I’ll try to do the same thing tomorrow.”

Looking Ahead

Montgomery earned the win, while Verlander took the tough loss. Leclerc notched the save. The victory gave the Rangers six straight to start the postseason, the fifth-longest postseason-opening streak in major league history. They only trail the 2022 Atlanta Braves, 2007 Colorado Rockies, 1976 Cincinnati Reds (all with seven, which was the entire postseason for the Reds), and 2014 Kansas City Royals (eight).

The Rangers and Astros will play Game Two Monday afternoon. Righty Nathan Eovaldi will take the hill for the Rangers against Astros lefty Framber Valdez. First pitch will be at 3:37 pm Central.

Craig Biggio throwing out the ceremonial first pitch prior to Game One of the 2023 ALCS between the Houston Astros and Texas Rangers
HOUSTON, Oct. 15 — Hall of Famer Craig Biggio throws out the ceremonial first pitch prior to Game One of the 2023 American League Championship Series between the Houston Astros and the Texas Rangers. Catching is Orbit, the Astros mascot. Biggio spent his entire 20-year career (1988–2007) with the Astros. (Photo by Evan Thompson/Sport Relay)

Also See:

Game One Pregame Manager Notes

Main Photo Credits:

HOUSTON, Oct. 15 — Justin Verlander of the Houston Astros pitches to Marcus Semien of the Texas Rangers in the first inning of Game One of the 2023 ALCS. The Rangers beat the Astros, 2–0. (Photo by Evan Thompson/Sport Relay)

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Evan M. Thompson, Editor-in-chief

Evan M. Thompson, Editor-in-chief

Evan is the owner and sole contributor of Thompson Talks, a website discussing the Big Four North American Pro Sports as well as soccer. He also is a credentialed member of the Colorado Rockies press corps. His first and biggest love is baseball.

Evan lives in Gilbert, Arizona and loves history, especially of sports. He is the treasurer for the Hemond Chapter of the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) and also is a USSF and AIA soccer referee. He released his first book, Volume I of A Complete History of the Major League Baseball Playoffs, in October of 2021.

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