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MLB Playoff Roundup: Monty shows his mettle

Jordan Montgomery outshone Justin Verlander to grab his team a 1-0 lead.

Championship Series - Texas Rangers v. Houston Astros - Game One Photo by Daniel Shirey/MLB Photos via Getty Images

Game 1 of the Lone Star ALCS showdown goes to the Rangers. Texas rode into Minute Maid looking to upset one of the prevailing narratives of recent postseasons and did just that, nabbing the series opener on the back of a dominant pitching display. Jordan Montgomery’s sterling postseason streak continued, pitching 6.1 scoreless to give his offense just enough time to push a pair of runs across.

ALCS Game 1

Texas Rangers 2, Houston Astros 0

(Rangers lead, 1-0)

On a day when Justin Verlander made his 36th postseason start — second-most behind Andy Pettitte’s 44 — and extended his Game 1 starts record to 14, it was his counterpart Montgomery who stole the show. The former Yankee has been one of the best pitchers of these playoffs, with a pair of scoreless appearances and a 2.08 ERA in three starts following tonight’s exploits.

Texas jumped out to an early 1-0 lead in the second, rookie Evan Carter ripping a grounder off José Abreu’s glove and racing to second just ahead of Kyle Tucker’s throw before coming around to score on a line drive single by Jonah Heim.

Texas could’ve scored more in the inning, loading the bases on a Josh Jung single and Leody Taveras walk, but Marcus Semien popped out to end the threat.

The next couple innings saw Houston’s best chance at putting runs on the board, but both times Montgomery bent without breaking. He navigated around a Martín Maldonado walk and Alex Bregman single in the third before facing his sternest test in the fourth. After tallying a quick pair of outs, Montgomery surrendered three-straight singles to Chas McCormick, Mauricio Dubón and Jeremy Peña, but stranded all three by striking out Maldonado swinging. In fact, those were the last baserunners the Astros would manage save for a Jose Altuve walk in the eighth erased by a double play as Montgomery, Josh Sborz, Aroldis Chapman and José Leclerc combined to face the minimum in each of the final five frames.

Montgomery was already a top-25 starter in MLB during his final years with the Yankees, but he really took his game to another level following his 2022 deadline day departure to the Cardinals for Harrison Bader. Since that trade, Montgomery has been the 12th-most valuable qualified starter in baseball — just behind Gerrit Cole as it happens — tied with Logan Webb for the sixth-lowest ERA (3.17) among qualifiers.

Much of this has come from a drastic increase in his sinker usage, from 27 percent with the Yankees to 38.4 percent post-trade. In fact, Montgomery’s sinker was the fifth-most valuable sinker in MLB by Statcast’s Run Value metric, and while he didn’t induce a ton of ground balls last night, its increased usage bumped up the effectiveness of his two put away pitches, the curveball and changeup. In 6.1 scoreless innings, Montgomery held the Astros to five hits and a walk, striking out six (including a hattrick for Yordan Alvarez) while throwing 90 pitches.

His offense seemed particularly energized by their starter escaping the jam in the fourth because they came out swinging in the fifth. With one out, Taveras clobbered a hanging 1-2 slider from Verlander into the seats in right to double his team’s advantage, 2-0.

From that point forward, the closest either team came to scoring was in the top of the seventh, with Heim and Taveras sandwiching a walk and single around a pair of strikeouts only to be stranded by another Semien pop out. Verlander was more than serviceable on the outing, limiting a high-flying Texas offense to two runs on six hits and two walks against five strikeouts in 6.2 innings, but it’s hard to win a start when your offense lays a goose egg.

It’s just the kind grind-it-out victory the Rangers needed to open their series, stealing a game at Minute Maid by proving they can shut down the Astros offense at home. With the momentum firmly his team’s corner, Nathan Eovaldi will look to continue his own dominant postseason, receiving the ball to face Framber Valdez in Game 2 tomorrow afternoon.