Good faced off against evil in a Texan morality play for the ages in the American League Championship Series. The Texas Rangers and Houston Astros engaged in epic battle like Goku and Frieza during their spectacular seven game bloodbath. The series had it all: pitchers’ duels, blowouts, bean balls, benches-clearing consternation, more bean balls, and best of all: GAME 7.
Game 1: Future Hall of Famer Justin Verlander started for Houston in the opening salvo of this highly anticipated affair. Verlander won the MVP and the Cy Young in 2011. 2011 is the most important year in Rangers history. It is the year the Rangers choked the World Series. The Rangers had not won a playoff series since this miracle pennant run. In many ways this entire pennant run is a battle against 2011. The demons of the failures, the adoration for the lone bright spot in franchise history.
Justin Verlander went 6.2 IP and gave up 2 ER. The first run was a Jonah Heim single that plated Evan “The Little Savior” Carter. The second was a solo shot by CF Leody Taveras. Jordan Montgomery was exceptional in this start. He went 6.1 IP of scoreless ball. The most impressive thing about his outing was how he handled the best hitter in the AL: Yordan Alvarez. Monty peppered Alvarez with his big overhand curveball to strike him out three times. Alvarez was the best and most dangerous hitter throughout this entire series. He is probably the best hitter in baseball. Alvarez reached the sort of staggering, S class level that only the true carries of the sport reach. He was going to hit the ball insanely hard somewhere and was a terrifying threat. Monty was able to shut him down during this low-scoring affair. This was the only time in the series the Rangers could keep a lid on the Cuban slugger.
Josh Sborz relieved Monty in the 7th. He had his A+ stuff and turned in a scoreless inning. Sborz managed to have his A+ stuff for every outing during this playoff run. This is perhaps the most important variable in the Rangers playoff run. Sborz is truly the variable of all variables. During the regular season he was like Harvey Dent. Now he is like Prime Matt Harvey. Aroldis Chapman, who is notoriously bad against the Astros, recorded two outs in the 8th. Jose Leclerc shut the door in the 9th. Win 2-0.
Game 2: Playoff Warrior Nathan Eovaldi faced off against inconsistent lefty ace Framber Valdez. Valdez got blown up in the 1st, throwing a Robbie Grossman dribbler up the first base line with two on. Adolis Garcia followed with a two run single. Mitch Garver hit an RBI single of his own after. Nathaniel Lowe had one of his own. The Rangers sent all nine batters up to the plate before Framber Valdez made it out of the 1st. Nathan Eovaldi pitched well with his 4-0 lead. The Astros insanely talented carry Yordan Alvarez hit a solo shot to lead off the 2nd. Jonah Heim countered with an identical hit in the 3rd. Alex Bregman had a solo shot of his own in the 4th.
The flashpoint of the game occurred in the bottom of the 5th. Rangers hard carry righty Nathan Eovaldi gave up soft singles to talented outfielders Michael Brantley and Chas McCormick. Underachieving young shortstop Jeremy Pena squibbed a weak hit up to Josh Jung, who charged with extreme ferocity and… overran the ball. Josh Jung, who improved his defense so much since last season. Josh Jung, who led AL third baseman in fielding percentage this season, made the crucial flaw.
Bases loaded, no outs, on the road, against the AL favorite, pinch hitter+top of the lineup coming up… how would Eovaldi answer?
He answered the same way he did when the best pitcher in baseball, Jacob deGrom, went down and Nate was asked to fill his shoes during the month of May and did so brilliantly. Nate Eovaldi might not get as much adoration and attention as some of the more prominent aces in MLB, but he showed in this sequence his Warrior’s Spirit burned with the same intensity as deGrom’s. Ancient Astros Skipper Dusty Baker pinch hit Yainer Diaz in for his goldenboy catcher, Martin Maldonado. Eovaldi struck him out on a slider Diaz was fooled on. Eovaldi struck out Altuve on a nasty splitter for the second out. Josh Jung redeemed himself when he threw out Alex Bregman on a chopper to third. One thing to note about Eovaldi’s escape is the nature of bases loaded jam. Pretty much any hit, even one that spawns a double play, scores a run in a no outs, bases loaded spot. One of the only build orders for a pitcher to escape scoreless begins with two strikeouts. Eovaldi not only escaped the brutal inning, but he did so without giving up any runs. This would prove crucial, as the Rangers would go on to only win by one run. Win 5-4.
Game 3: Mad Max Scherzer started this game for the Rangers and did not have much. The Rangers were vexed by Cristian Javier’s fastball and never led this game. Loss 8-5.
Game 4: The Rangers popped struggling Jose Urquidy for 3 ER over 2.1. Unfortunately for them, Ryan Stanek came in and got a double play on one pitch in the third. This shifted the momentum of the game, as Rangers starters Andrew Heaney and Dane Dunning were terrible. Using them both to nullify lefties was a cute build against the O’s, but Heaney can’t get Alvarez out and Kyle Tucker did not hit all series. The turning point of the game occurred in the 4th inning when the game was tied 3-3 and Dane Dunning issued a leadoff walk to joke player Martin Maldonado. Leadoff walks are how most nightmare innings start. Issuing a leadoff walk to an automatic out player like Maldonado is akin to wearing a cutoff Poison t-shirt and bellbottoms to a Slayer concert. It was so egregiously out of line as to be worthy of extreme scorn. The repugnant inning turned into a true horror show like Alex’s life in A Clockwork Orange as Cody Bradford painted a two strike changeup on the corner against Jose Abreu that was called a ball and immediately gave up a three-run bomb after. That was game. Loss 10-3.
Game 5: This was one of those games that made you hate being a Ranger fan. Jordan Montgomery was solid. 5.1 IP, 2 ER, 2 BB, 3 SO. He did not have his big curve working against Alvarez like in Game 1. Verlander was solid again. Lowe popped him for a solo shot in the 5th to make it 1-1. Monty ran out of gas in the 6th as Jose Abreu singled to give the Astros the lead. Josh Sborz came in again and was insanely good. He escaped the inning despite the traffic and the Rangers went into the 6th down 1. After ice cold Marcus Semien hit a leadoff popup, Corey Seager doubled to right. The Little Savior Carter followed him with a single. Adolis “El Bombi” Garcia then let loose a thunderous uppercut swing on an inside fastball and sent a towering shot into the left field seats to give the Rangers a 4-2 lead. Not since Josh Hamilton’s oft forgotten 2011 game 6 World Series late inning homer has a Ranger stroked such an epic October moonshot. Garcia’s mammoth blast would meet the same ignominious end as Hamilton’s homer. Garcia strolled halfway to first base before defiantly throwing his bat down with the same disdain MLB fans have for the Astros after they cheated to win a World Series.
The Rangers led 4-2 going into the bottom of the 8th after Jose Leclerc entered a messy 8th for the four out save. Flamethrowing punk setup man Bryan Abreu got the ball for Houston and immediately walked the leadoff man. He then beaned Adolis Garcia on purpose, causing benches to clear. In typical baseball fashion, no punches were thrown. Abreu and Garcia both got ejected. Dusty Baker acted like a child during this entire affair despite being 74. Dusty was coddled and groveled to during this entire protracted affair. The Astros brought in their closer as minute after minute ticked by. Ryan Pressly escaped the inning. Jose Leclerc then went back out for the 9th and had nothing left after sitting on the bench getting cold for nearly 30 minutes. Leclerc allowed a single, a walk, then a Jose Altuve killshot three-run homer. Leclerc was left to atrophy and seize up during Dusty’s childish antics that proceeded his pitchers playing dirty.
This game was the perfect example of why the Astros are such a reprehensible organization. They play dirty in every possible way, but lack the integrity to take accountability for their actions. The Rangers of course went down quietly in the 9th, losing the all important swing game in crushing fashion. This was classic Rangers: choke in embarrassing fashion and get sand kicked in your face. This was a loss on the level of the 2011 World Series game 6 choke. This was a truly devastating blow; the Rangers would be asked to go to Houston for the final two games with a huge question mark at starting pitching. Loss 5-4.
Game 6: Mitch Garver made the game 1-1 with a solo shot off of Framber Valdez in the 2nd. Jonah Heim sent another shot to right field to make the game 3-1. Adolis Garcia struck out for the fourth time in the 8th inning as the Rangers led by a mere run. Mitch Garver plated Evan Carter for the important insurance run. Jose Leclerc came on with two on and one out in the 8th. He immediately walked ice cold Kyle Tucker to load the bases. What followed was the turning point of the series. Leclerc gets Mauricio Dubon to lineout, and then Dusty pinch hits for the reigning World Series MVP with a middling lefty named Jon Singleton. Dusty uses Singleton like he did Randall Simon on the 2003 Cubs. Simon was actually good though. Singleton struckout and the Rangers escaped the inning.
The incredibly close game was 4-2 going into the 9th when Rafael Montero walked Josh Jung to leadoff the inning. Taveras reached on an error. Marcus Semien followed with a single. Ryan Stanek came in and beaned Corey Seager to push a run in. Evan Carter struckout. Up came Adolis Garcia with four strikeouts on the day to thunderous boos from Astros fans. The Rangers bullpen was depleted, untrusted, and had already exhausted their closer during the epic 8th. The Rangers needed insurance runs, not only to win Game 6, but to be able to have pitching for game 7. Garcia unleashed a more compact version of the vicious, overzealous stroke he had been exhibiting all day. Oftentimes if you play too angry in baseball it can affect your mechanics. This was the case with Garcia, who was trying to avenge the atrocity of Game 5 by himself. After being booed and struckout four times, Adolis channeled the training that turned him into a true superstar this season: plate discipline. This was the defining factor in him becoming a true S class player this season. Adolis yanked the ball into the Crawford Boxes for a spectacular grand slam. This cathartic killshot enabled the Rangers to use a mop up man in the 9th, thus preserving the closer for Game 7.
Game 7: Without the infinite brilliance of Jacob deGrom, the Rangers were forced to rely on another future Hall of Famer. Mad Max Sherzer was set to start game 7, but how much of him was left? He looked awful in his previous start. But Mad Max not only possesses The Warrior’s Spirit, but embodies it like Prince Vegeta. Even at 39 and severely injured, Mad Max wanted the ball. This is a sentiment that someone like George Kirby can not understand.
Although Rangers fans might have hoped for 7 IP of vintage 2015 Mad Max; they received the 2023 Mets version that relies on guile more than his brain realizes. Gone are the days of Mad Max frothing at the mouth on the mound, demanding to be left in to solo carry his team at his pitch count climbs well above 100. The spirit remains, the arm does not. Max seemed to come to terms with his mortality and role as Bochy lifted him after 2.2 IP of shaky ball. He did not argue with Bochy or look miffed, he turned the ball over understanding his role in the build order was complete. As Mad Max continues to heal, he puts himself in position to become one of the most loved and electric pitchers in the last 35 years.
Often when watching baseball, one can criticize the managerial decisions. This is especially true where pitching is concerned. It is easy for the fan to say they would have brought someone else in with the benefit of hindsight. Bruce Bochy makes nearly all of the right pitching moves. Sometimes he makes moves so brilliant it is reminiscent of the Korean StarCraft progamer NesTea. NesTea was famous for always being a step ahead. He was also famous for being a truly brilliant thinker, despite having worse pieces to work with than others [bullpen/Zerg units] and being old.
After Scherzer came to terms with the fact he was never going to feel truly rested again, Monty entered the fray. He was brilliant as usual: 2.1 IP scoreless. It is NOT hyperbole to say that Jordan Montgomery has been as useful to this pennant run as Cliff Lee was to the 2010 run. When the chips are down, the big Southern Southpaw is the Ranger chosen to sit in deGrom’s stead. The Rangers won their pennant in the 4th inning against JP France. Texas Tech Grad Josh Jung led the inning off with a single. After Leody struckout, Marcus Semien walked. Corey Seager hit a single to load the bases. Evan “The Little Savior” Carter hit a two-run double. Adolis Garcia followed with a two-run single of his own. This two-run crushing blow was Garcia’s 3rd hit of the day. His first AB he cranked a single off the Crawford Boxes. Despite the ball being obviously fair and 5 feet from being a homer, Garcia preened at home plate as though he had hit the ball 20 rows into the upper deck. He made up for the absurd hotdogging later in the inning when he swiped second. Adolis Garcia plays the game of baseball in the flashy and demonstrative way Cubans are famous for. We are truly lucky to have such an electric player in MLB. He hits for extreme power, he is fast, his range is incredible, he has a cannon for an arm, and he decreased his strikeout rate significantly this season. Adolis “El Bombi” Garcia, The Pride of Cuba, showed Houston what he was really about in this series. He was booed viciously and let it affect him until he was able to unleash an insidious finishing move on the Astros. He carried that momentum and confidence into Game 7. His swing was compact and lethal as opposed to wild and looping. He played with a controlled rage like Len Bias, as opposed to a frenetic rage like Dennis Rodman. Adolis was finally able to hone his prodigious talents into something refined and lethal this season.
After Adolis made it 8-2 Rangers they never really looked back. Nate Lowe scored Garver after Abreu threw at him out of spite. Abreu, the antagonist of the entire game 5 affair, was trying to hamstring the Rangers going into their World Series appearance by throwing at their injury prone DH in a lost game. It is the sort of cowardly rodent behavior the Astros do constantly. The score was 11-3 in the 8th when Chapman avenged Garver, cranking it up to 104 to kneecap Chas McMormick. When it comes to intimidation, there is perhaps no active player more scary than The Cuban Missile. Chapman stood up for his boys in a way that proves he is every bit a Ranger, despite being traded from the Royals in the middle of the season.
The Rangers rode their 11-3 lead to a seven game series victory. They used their closer in the 9th and the eight run lead felt tenuous. The Astros were the AL West favorites this season. They were the best team in the AL for the past six years. They were the heavy favorites to West again. The Rangers bought big on pitching in the offseason and proved that starting pitching is the cornerstone of a successful franchise.
The Rangers play the Arizona Diamondbacks in the World Series and will have home field advantage. The Diamondbacks are a solid team that plays great defense, has solid pitching, and a good bullpen. Their offense is merely average. Many people expected the Dodgers or Braves to be in this spot. The D-Backs beat the Dodgers and NL Champion Phillies to get here. They are a legit young team led by plucky leadoff man Corbin Carroll. Their lineup relies on teamwork and not overwhelming force. Their rotation is good, but they only have one “name” pitcher that really scares you in the rotation: Zac Gallen. Merrill Kelly is good too, but definitely a #2 starter. Ketel Marte is a very good second baseman. Gabriel Moreno is a good catcher with pop. You add a couple solid bullpen arms and you have the D-Backs. They won 84 games in the regular season. They are a solid little team. They are by no means a World Series favorite.
The Rangers offense is far superior to the D-Backs. The D-Backs have an average offense. The Rangers offense led the AL in runs. The Rangers are about even with the D-Backs in starting pitching, with both squads boasting two very good starters and some question marks. It is hard to give the Rangers the edge in the bullpen, but the D-Backs bullpen is merely average and Josh Sborz looked great. It sort of looks like both bullpens have 3 guys they can trust. Bochy clearly gets the skipper edge.
The Rangers finally won a pennant for the first time since 2011. They got good bracket luck and already defeated the more difficult foe in the ALCS. They need to take care of business against a plucky D-Backs squad that made the playoffs because the Pads and Mets were such a joke.
Upcoming Schedule – All Times Central
10/27 – vs Diamondbacks – 7:03 p.m. – FOX
10/28 – vs Diamondbacks – 7:03 p.m. – FOX
10/30 – @Diamondbacks – 7:03 p.m. – FOX
10/31 – @Diamondbacks – 7:03 p.m. – FOX
*11/1 – @Diamondbacks – 7:03 p.m. – FOX
*11/3 – vs Diamondbacks – 7:03 p.m. – FOX
*11/4 – vs Diamondbacks – 7:03 p.m. – FOX