Wham bam: now that was the Andrew Heaney Yankees fans know and once tried (for a moment) to love. Heaney got the start for the Texas Rangers as they tried to open up a 3-1 series lead over the Houston Astros, but he sure didn’t finish it, lasting just two-thirds of an inning and leaving the Rangers in a 3-0 hole that they never quite crawled out of. He was far from the only reason they ultimately lost 10-3, giving home field advantage back to the Astros, who will be at the very least hosting a Game 6 (if not a Game 7), but he did leave Texas on their heels from the get-go, leaving this game with the feeling of being controlled by the Astros the whole way — even if that’s not quite how it went.
ALCS Game 4
(Series tied, 2-2)
There aren’t many ways to describe the first inning other than conjecturing that the Astros’ scouting report on Heaney was really good, because he simply couldn’t throw the ball over the plate without being punished. Jose Altuve started the damage with a double on a changeup that Heaney allowed to catch far too much of the plate, considering the previous two pitches had been well off of it.
Altuve leads off the game with a double— FOX Sports: MLB (@MLBONFOX) October 20, 2023
: FS1 pic.twitter.com/J1R2LoqTg8
Beyond the scouting report, pitch selection was an issue against a lineup that gives virtually no room for error. Mauricio Dubón moved Altuve over to third base on another hanging changeup, and then, for some reason, the decision was made to throw Alex Bregman three straight high fastballs. The last of them wasn’t high enough, and it turned into a triple that gave the Astros a 2-0 lead before an out had been recorded.
That brought Yordan Alvarez. You know what’s not a good pitch to throw to Yordan Alvarez? This is not a good pitch to throw to Yordan Alvarez:
Fortunately for Heaney, it was only a single, but it was still a 3-0 game. After a mound visit, it seemed as if the lefty finally found his mojo, retiring back-to-back hitters with weak grounders. But Alvarez then moved over to second on a walk to Chas McCormick, and Heaney’s day was over, relieved by Dane Dunning, who managed to get out of the jam.
On the other end, José Urquidy took the hill for Houston, making his second postseason start after tossing 5.2 two-run innings against Minnesota in the ALDS. Urquidy’s game plan was simple: pepper the edge with fastballs, refuse to cede anything over the middle, and let them chase changeups off the plate to the arm side and sweepers to the glove side.
Urquidy executed the plan to perfection during the first inning, but Adolis García had different ideas in the second, taking a change up that wasn’t even a particularly bad pitch and yanking it deep into the left field seats.
The explosive Texas offense wasn’t done yet, though. Mitch Garver followed up García’s blast by drawing a walk, moving to third on a double from Nathaniel Lowe. When Josh Jung stroked one deep enough into left to score the slow-footed Garver, the score was 3-2.
Things didn’t get too much easier for Urquidy from there. He got Marcus Semien to pop out to start the third, but I have a sneaking suspicion Corey Seager might have been looking for a high fastball on the first pitch he saw:
When García and Evan Carter followed that up with back-to-back singles, Urquidy joined Heaney on his team’s bench, replaced for flamethrower Ryne Stanek, who instantly induced a double play ground ball to end the threat.
Unfortunately for Texas, the momentum swing their way was extremely short lived. Dane Dunning handled the second and third innings with aplomb, but following a longer stay on the bench, he opened the fourth with walks to Martín Maldonado and Altuve, followed by another Dubón single that would have plated a run with many a runner not named Maldonado. To his credit, Dunning managed to strike out Alex Bregman before Bruce Bochy made the call to the bullpen, handing off the unenviable task of retiring Alvarez to lefthander Chasen Bradford.
Fortunately for Bradford, the meatball he threw to Alvarez “only” flew 401 feet, which wasn’t quite deep enough to get past the center field warning track, but was plenty deep enough to score even Maldonado and make it 4-3.
Unfortunately for Bradford, there isn’t a single park in baseball that’ll hold a 438-foot fly ball, which is what José Abreu did with the hanger he received in the subsequent at-bat:
You could practically hear the air being sucked out of the stadium right then. Hunter Brown came on in relief after the Astros’ offensive outburst, pumping in fastball after fastball in the high 90s, electric enough that Texas hitters couldn’t do anything with them despite mostly being over the heart of the plate. Brown threw three scoreless innings, striking out two and allowing just two baserunners, a short-lived rally for the Rangers in the sixth that was erased on a double play in which, after review, it was found that Abreu had just nicked the finger of the batting glove in Marcus Semien’s back pocket as he dove back to first base on a screaming line drive straight at the first baseman.
Phil Maton took over in the seventh and eighth, and along with Rafael Montero in the ninth kept the Rangers bats quiet for the rest of the night. Chris Stratton threw 1.2 scoreless innings on the Texas side after Bradford’s meltdown, but the Astros tacked on a couple more in the seventh, courtesy of Chas McCormick, and then one more additional tick in the eighth after a Jose Altuve home run was overturned and turned into a double, only to see him score anyway on Alvarez’s bajillionth postseason RBI of his young career (it’s actually 38).
And that’s all she wrote for the Rangers and their home field advantage. Though the series is still tied 2-2, momentum has swung firmly back towards the corner of an Astros team that approaches the postseason with the coolness of the Tim Duncan-era San Antonio Spurs. Nothing is truly a must-win game until the other team is one game away from advancing, but a loss tomorrow night would give the Rangers the Sisyphean task of beating the Astros in Houston twice in a row again for a chance to play in the World Series. I’m not going to have the time to look up the last time a team won a playoff series by going 4-0 on the road, but if I had to guess, I’d say we probably haven’t seen it happen yet. Editor’s note: you’re looking to repeat the 2019 Nationals’ success against these same Astros if you can’t win one at home, Texas.
Game 5 remains in Arlington and takes place tomorrow at 5:07 p.m. ET. It’ll be broadcast once again on Fox Sports 1, and we’ll also get a rematch of Game 1’s duel between old friend Jordan Montgomery and old enemy Justin Verlander. We’ll see you there!