2023 ALCS: Rangers Put Astros in a 2–0 Hole, Head Home in Command of Series

(Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images)

Rangers 5, Astros 4; Rangers lead series, 2–0

HOUSTON, Oct. 16 — The Texas Rangers sent nine men to the plate in the first inning, leading both 4–0 and 5–1 before staving off a furious comeback for a 5–4 Game Two victory over the Houston Astros Monday afternoon in the ALCS. Left-handed Astros starter Framber Valdez had a nightmarish outing, giving up five runs on seven hits, walking one and striking out six over 2 2/3 innings. One of the runs was unearned, but that was due to his own fielding and throwing errors, adding insult to injury.

“When you put the ball in play, good things happen,” Rangers manager Bruce Bochy said of the early scoring. He said his team had good at-bats before adding, “It’s always good to get a crooked number up there, especially early.”

Rangers starter Nathan Eovaldi put up a quality start, allowing three runs on five hits across six innings, walking one and striking out nine. His effort gave his team a 2–0 series lead as it heads home for the next two or, if necessary, three games. “It’s huge,” Eovaldi said of the series lead. “The momentum is in our favor, but we can’t let our guard down.”

Rangers Take Charge of Astros Early

Framber Valdez of the Astros throwing the first pitch of Game Two of the 2023 ALCS to Marcus Semien of the Rangers
HOUSTON, Oct. 16 — Houston Astros pitcher Framber Valdez throws the first pitch of Game Two of the 2023 ALCS, which Marcus Semien of the Texas Rangers hit for a single. The Rangers beat the Astros, 5–4, to take a 2–0 series lead. (Photo by Evan Thompson/Sport Relay)

The Rangers’ dismantling of Valdez began on the first pitch of the game, which second baseman Marcus Semien stroked to center for a single. Shortstop Corey Seager hit the next pitch into left for another single. Left fielder Robbie Grossman hit a dribbler between the mound and the third-base line. Valdez bobbled it before scooping it up. His desperation throw to first sailed wide, rolling into foul ground outside shallow right. Semien scored on the overthrow, with Seager reaching third and Grossman reaching second.

Right fielder Adolis Garcia and designated hitter Mitch Garver singled to right and left, respectively, to bring Seager and Grossman in. After catcher Jonah Heim struck out, first baseman Nathaniel Lowe hit yet another single, this one to left. That brought in Garcia, making the score 4–0. A strikeout by third baseman Josh Jung and fly to his counterpart by center fielder Leody Taveras ended the frame.

Semien also got a hit on the first pitch of the second inning. After the game, Semien said his strategy against Valdez was “to get the ball up in the zone” while not falling behind in the count. Semien did not score, as Valdez struck out Seager, got Grossman to ground into a 6–4 force, hit Garcia, and struck out Garver. The pitch that hit Garcia hit him in the foot as he tried to scoot backwards to avoid the pitch. He lost his balance but recovered by turning a cartwheel towards first in a humorous moment.

Astros Score, but Rangers Get It Back

The Astros scored their first run of both the game and the series in the bottom of the second when designated hitter Yordan Alvarez ripped a second-deck leadoff homer, making the score 4–1. But the Rangers got the run back in the top of the third when Heim led off with a blast off the billboards in left field. It became a 5–2 game in the bottom of the fourth when Astros third baseman Alex Bregman crushed a drive off the left-field foul pole for a leadoff home run.

The Astros squandered a scoring opportunity in the bottom of the fifth. Singles to left-center by left fielder Michael Brantley and center by center fielder Chas McCormick put runners on first and second. Shortstop Jeremy Pena squibbed one off the end of the bat toward third. Jung charged in to make the play but muffed it, loading the bases on the error. With light-hitting catcher Martin Maldonado due up, Baker pinch-hit for him with reserve catcher Yainer Diaz. Strikeouts by both him and Jose Altuve brought up Bregman, who grounded meekly to third and stranded all three runners.

Bochy said Eovaldi’s ability to escape jams like this one makes him one of the “elite pitchers in the game.” He added that this escape was the turning point of the game. “Bases loaded, nobody out in the fifth. (Eovaldi) found a way to get through it. Terrific job by him. He had good stuff today, pitched very well.”

Astros manager Dusty Baker said it was “very disappointing” not to score in that situation. “The guys up there are doing their damnedest to push those runs across, (but) Eovaldi made some quality pitches after we had him in trouble.”

Alvarez, Brantley Make It Close

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The Rangers threatened against reliever J.P. France in the top of the sixth after a one-out triple to left-center by Taveras. But Semien, up next, smashed a liner directly at Bregman, who caught it and stepped on the bag for an easy line-drive double play. A one-out walk by Alvarez in the bottom half, followed by a two-out double off the wall in left-center by Brantley, combined to trim the Rangers lead to 5–3. Alvarez brought the Astros within one with a two-out homer in the bottom of the eighth off reliever Aroldis Chapman, his second dinger of the game. But that was as close as the Astros got, as Jose Leclerc pitched around two walks to get the third out in the eighth. He followed with a 1-2-3 ninth for his second save in as many days.

Looking Ahead

Eovaldi earned the win, while Valdez took the loss. The Rangers and Astros head to Arlington, Texas for Games Three, Four, and — if necessary — Five. Game Three, which will be Wednesday, matches Max Scherzer of the Rangers and Cristian Javier of the Astros in a battle of righties. First pitch will be at 7:03 pm Central on FS1.

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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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