ARLINGTON, Texas — Jose Altuve homered, Cristian Javier worked into the sixth inning of another solid post-season start and the Houston Astros beat the Texas Rangers 8-5 on Wednesday night, closing to 2-1 in the AL Championship Series.
Texas lost for the first time this post-season after a 7-0 start. Three-time Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer was gone after four innings in his first outing in more than a month after recovering from a strained shoulder muscle.
Javier set a franchise record for the defending champion Astros by extending his postseason scoreless streak to 20 1/3 innings. His streak ended in the fifth when rookie Josh Jung hit the first of his pair of two-run homers.
A 26-year-old Dominican right-hander known as “El Reptil,” Javier limited the Rangers to two runs and three hits over 5 2/3 innings in his second win this postseason. Ryan Pressly, the third reliever, worked the ninth for his third save of the playoffs, inducing Jung’s game-ending, double-play grounder.
Martin Maldonado, the catcher wearing reptile-skin spikes in reference to his pitcher’s nickname, and Yordan Alvarez both had two-run singles for the Astros.
Jung hit his second two-run homer in the seventh for the wild-card Rangers, who played only their second home game this post-season. They swept Tampa Bay and Baltimore — the AL’s top two teams in the regular season — to get to their first ALCS since 2011 and their first post-season series against their instate AL West rival.
Game 4 is Thursday night and Game 5 will be Friday afternoon. The Astros have won 17 of their last 20 road games, which includes their two wins at Minnesota in the AL Division Series and a record-setting series at Globe Life Field in early September, when they homered 16 times and outscored Texas 39-10 in a three-game sweep.
Philadelphia, which got swept in three games at Globe Life Field to open this season, has a 2-0 lead in the NLCS, which resumes Thursday in Arizona.
The Rangers had trailed after only one of the previous 64 innings this post-season until a three-run second that put Houston ahead to stay.
Alvarez was hit by a 89-mph cutter on his left foot to start that frame, struggling Kyle Tucker walked and Mauricio Dubon loaded the bases with a single. Alvarez came home as Scherzer bounced a wild pitch off Jonah Heim’s mitt and Maldonado, the No. 9 batter, followed with his big hit.
Altuve, who went deep five times in that September series, homered leading off the third. Jose Abreu doubled on the first pitch in the fourth and scored a single by Dubon for a 5-0 lead.
When Scherzer got to the dugout and stopped on the steps after those consecutive Ks, there was a brief conversation with manager Bruce Bochy, who at one point motioned toward the Rangers bullpen in right-centre.
The 39-year-old Scherzer, a trade-deadline acquisition from the Mets, gave up five runs and five hits. In his only post-season start for New York, he allowed seven runs and seven hits, including four homers, in 4 2/3 innings in a 7-1 loss to San Diego in the NL Wild Card Series last season.
Scherzer was dealing with forearm tightness six weeks ago when he allowed seven runs — all on three homers — over three innings in the Astros’ 12-3 win that wrapped up that September series. He threw 5 1/3 scoreless innings six days later, on Sept. 12 at Toronto, before going on the injured list because of the shoulder strain.
Javier was done after rookie Evan Carter’s hard two-out liner to right in the sixth, a ball that sailed over Tucker’s head to the wall after being misplayed into a double by the Gold Glove finalist. Hector Neris then replaced Javier, and the inning quickly ended with a defensive gem.
Left-fielder Michael Brantley, a 36-year-old five-time all-star who returned in August after missing 14 months with a shoulder injury, sprinted more than 80 feet to make a diving catch in the gap and take an extra-base hit away from Adolis Garcia.
That still wasn’t the best defensive play of the night.
Alvarez got robbed of what would have been his seventh homer this postseason on a 416-foot drive to straightaway center leading off the sixth, where Leody Taveras made a leaping catch with his arm extended beyond the wall.
LOT OF ZEROES
Javier’s 20 1/3 innings passed Joe Niekro’s 18 innings for the longest scoreless streak in Astros history, for starters or relievers. It is the second-longest MLB scoreless streak for a starter in his first post-season starts, behind Christy Mathewson’s 28 innings from 1905-11.
Scherzer became the second pitcher to start for five teams in the post-season following appearances for Detroit, Washington, the Los Angeles Dodgers and the New York Mets. David Wells started for Cincinnati, Baltimore, the Yankees, Boston and San Diego from 1989-2006.