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MLB Playoff Roundup: Rangers go up 2-0 as Astros’ comeback bid falls short

A first-inning four-spot ultimately proved insurmountable for Houston.

Nathan Eovaldi against the Astros.
Nathan Eovaldi against the Astros.
Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

The Astros are human. Sure, their regular-season win total of 90 was their lowest full-season mark since 2016, but they looked just as invulnerable as ever to start the playoffs, making quick work of the Twins in the Division Series. Now, down 2-0 in the ALCS, they’re on the verge of missing the World Series for the first time since 2020, with another narrow Rangers’ victory their latest defeat.

ALCS Game 2

Texas Rangers 5, Houston Astros 4

(Texas leads series 2-0)

Framber Valdez, who tossed 25 innings of 1.44 ERA ball during last year’s World Series run, suffered a second straight defeat to start these playoffs. After a pair of cheap first-pitch hits to begin the game, Valdez rushed the throw to first on a comebacker, missing wide and allowing the first Rangers run to come home:

Thereafter, frustration got the best of him, and three out of the next four Rangers singled, pushing the tally to 4-0.

After Jordan Montgomery dazzled in Game 1, Texas turned to another former Yankee in Nathan Eovaldi. Eovaldi had been especially impressive in two starts this postseason, tossing 13.2 innings while allowing just two runs and striking out 15. He wasn’t quite as effective in this one, but then again, facing Yordan Álvarez will do that to you. Even though the slugger was reportedly dealing with an illness, he took Eovaldi deep in the bottom of the second to put Houston on the board:

Eovaldi, who allowed nearly two homers per nine innings as recently as 2022, saw his longball issues continue to re-emerge in this one, as Alex Bregman tagged him for a line shot in the bottom of the fourth:

Thankfully for the Rangers, they launched one of their own dingers in between Houston’s two, with Jonah Heim lifting one into the Crawford Boxes in left:

Valdez would last just three more batters after the Heim homer, and though the Astros would have to empty their bullpen, their relief corps kept things close. They tossed 6.1 scoreless, striking out six against just a hit and two walks.

The Astros added another on a Michael Brantley double in the sixth, drawing ever closer, but it wasn’t until Álvarez stepped back in again in the bottom of the eighth that the crowd really got back into it.

Yet another former Yankee pitcher in Aroldis Chapman was on the wrong side of this one. To his credit, he didn’t make a mistake; the southpaw tried a first-pitch slider on the low and outside corner to the big lefty, normally a very good spot for that pitch against a same-handed hitter. But there’s simply no safe pitch when you’re facing one of the best left-on-left hitters in postseason history. Álvarez was able to extend and yank it over the right field wall for his second homer of the game and sixth in six postseason contests this year:

That ended Chapman’s night and started closer José Leclerc’s evening early. The hard-throwing right-hander, prone to bouts of wildness, walked a pair before getting Chas McCormick to ground weakly into a fielder’s choice to end the inning. But his wildness didn’t return in the ninth, and the Astros went down quietly, 1-2-3.

The Astros have a depleted bullpen and the series is heading to Arlington, but don’t count Houston out just yet — they were actually much better on the road in the regular season. Their 51-30 record was just one game back of the Braves and Orioles for the best in the majors. But, they were also the only playoff team with a sub-.500 record at home, going 39-42. Even if they salvage the series and notch their third straight pennant, their home-field “advantage” might ultimately be their undoing in the World Series.