After a bitter series with ample drama, the moment of truth comes tomorrow in Houston. Facing elimination in a hostile environment, the Rangers’ offense provided ample thump in their victorious effort in Game 6. Nathan Eovaldi once again showed up in October to contribute a quality start, and the Rangers’ shaky bullpen held up. The margin was razor-thin until Adolis García broke things open with a grand slam in the ninth inning. By the end of the ninth-inning barrage, the Rangers captured Game 6 by a score of 9-2.
ALCS Game 6
(Series tied 3-3)
Both teams threw punches early. After a scoreless top of the first, the Astros landed the first blow on the Rangers’ seasoned playoff starter Eovaldi in his initial inning of work. Jose Altuve led off with a base hit, Michael Brantley walked, and Yordan Alvarez muscled a bloop base hit to center field to open up a 1-0 lead for the Astros. Rangers catcher Mitch Garver answered quickly with a home run to tie the score off Framber Valdez, who has struggled in his last two ALCS starts.
Neither team would threaten again until the bottom of the third, when Brantley walked to bring up Alvarez, and Rangers skipper Bruce Bochy, ever the tactician, made a telling decision, walking Alvarez intentionally to push Brantley into scoring position. An extreme but merited show of respect for the dangerous Alvarez. The gambit worked, though, as José Abreu grounded into a fielder’s choice to stifle the threat.
The potent Rangers offense made more noise in their half of the fourth, led by not one but two catchers who rake. Garver, in the DH spot today, singled, then 2023 All-Star catcher Jonah Heim went deep to make it 3-1.
Eovaldi settled in nicely after the blemish in the first inning and put up four scoreless innings, keeping the game at 3-1 after five complete. Valdez’s day, meanwhile, was done after five innings and three earned runs when Phil Maton replaced him to begin the sixth. Maton quickly retired the side and the Astros would get on the board again soon after.
Alvarez and Abreu singled to lead off the bottom of the sixth, and later Mauricio Dubón did the job with a sacrifice fly to score Alvarez and ratchet up the tension to a one-run game going into the late innings.
Hector Neris worked around a Josh Jung walk and a Marcus Semien single to pitch a scoreless seventh. Eovaldi’s pitch count was only at 80-ish through six innings, so Bochy rolled the dice and let him face Altuve in the seventh. The Rangers’ bullpen has been tenuous in the series, so the decision is understandable, but Altuve promptly lined a single to center field and Bochy pulled the plug. The former Yankee Eovaldi delivered once again in the 10th playoff start of his career, finishing with a quality start of 6.1 innings and two earned runs.
Josh Sborz entered to face Brantley and coaxed a double play to close Eovaldi’s line and get out of the inning. The top of the eighth provided a juicy matchup when Bryan Abreu entered the game after an infield single by Evan Carter, bringing up García. The two were involved in a dust-up when Abreu hit him with a pitch in Game 5. Abreu would get the better of García this time, sending him packing with a whiff for strike three. García struck out four times on the night, but he’d be back for a big fifth at-bat later.
Things didn’t play out so well for Abreu in the next at-bat. The red-hot Garver followed García with a clutch double for a crucial insurance run, and Game 6 headed to the bottom of the eighth with a score of 4-2 Rangers.
The Astros quickly responded, once again making some noise in the home eighth. Alex Bregman walked and Abreu singled, at which point Bochy tapped his closer José Leclerc to face Kyle Tucker with Minute Maid Park at a fever pitch. Leclerc walked Tucker to juice the bases, bringing the game to its inflection point. Dubón lined out, then pinch-hitter Jon Singleton worked a long at-bat, running the count full before Leclerc finally blew him away with a 97-mph fastball up in the zone.
Rafael Montero made a mess of things in the ninth — a Jung walk and a Semien single bookended a crucial error on a routine play by Altuve. With the bases loaded and nobody out, the Astros turned to their normally reliable righty Ryne Stanek. He drilled Corey Seager with a yanked fastball to bring in a run and make it 5-2 Rangers. Then, García got his revenge with one big swing, smashing a dagger grand slam to give the Rangers a 9-2 lead.
With no need to burn a relief arm, Andrew Heaney pitched a scoreless ninth. It all comes down to Game 7 with Max Scherzer returning to face Cristian Javier, and the way this series has gone, it’ll be a fight to the bitter end.