Astros can't solve home issues as Rangers force Game 7

October 23rd, 2023

HOUSTON -- The Astros and Rangers battled for the American League West crown for 162 games and both finished with 90 wins, with Houston taking the division flag on the season’s final day because of its better head-to-head record.

After six games of the ALCS, the Lone Star State rivals are deadlocked once again -- with one game remaining to decide a berth in the World Series.

The Rangers got homers from Mitch Garver and Jonah Heim and a grand slam from Adolis García while riding 6 1/3 strong innings from starter Nathan Eovaldi to beat the Astros, 9-2, in Game 6 of the ALCS on Sunday night at Minute Maid Park, tying the series at three games apiece.

“You tip your hat to them,” Astros third baseman Alex Bregman said. “They threw the ball extremely well. I thought we didn’t do enough offensively tonight, obviously. But tomorrow is Game 7. Win or go home. I know everyone in here’s excited about tomorrow.”

The game was much closer than the final score showed, with the Astros loading the bases with one out in the bottom of the eighth while trailing by two runs. Rangers reliever José Leclerc, who gave up Jose Altuve’s ninth-inning go-ahead homer in Game 5, got Mauricio Dubón to line out and struck out pinch-hitter Jon Singleton to silence the crowd.

“I was trying to bring the run in, trying to make something happen,” Dubón said. “I didn’t have the right plan at the time and failed. It showed.”

The Astros are slashing .177/.259/.281 with three homers in three home games in the ALCS, including going 2-for-17 with runners in scoring position. They were 1-for-8 with runners in scoring position in Game 6 and stranded nine on base.

“It's disappointing,” manager Dusty Baker said. “The name of the game is opportunities, and then after that you hope that you come through. That eighth inning where we had action, and especially with Duby up there, this guy has been coming through all year long, and you know he's going to make contact. Like I said, some days you just don't get it done.”

The Rangers scored five times in the ninth, including a grand slam by García, who had struck out in his previous four at-bats. García was booed loudly throughout Game 6 after he was hit by a pitch in Game 5 by Astros reliever Bryan Abreu, sparking a benches-clearing incident. Abreu pitched one inning while he appeals a two-game suspension handed down by MLB and may not be available for Game 7.

“That could be a huge blow,” Baker said. “I thought about using him [for] two innings today had the decision been made. But you'd hate to have the fine and the suspension go past tomorrow and then I wouldn't have had Abreu tomorrow, had he gone two innings.”

The home team has lost each game in the series, a trend the Astros will need to reverse in Game 7 on Monday -- the biggest baseball game in the state’s history -- to advance to the World Series for the fourth time in five years and third year in a row. The Astros will send Cristian Javier to the mound in the winner-take-all game.

The only other time the home team lost every game in a seven-game series was the 2019 World Series, in which the Astros dropped four at Minute Maid Park to the Nationals, including Games 6 and 7. The Astros have lost 21 of their last 28 games at home.

“We win tomorrow and everybody will forget about it,” Dubón said. “We’ve got one more game to prove it.”

In all best-of-seven postseason series, teams that have won Game 6 to force a Game 7 have come out on top in that winner-take-all contest 33 of 59 times (56 percent). As for Game 7, teams playing in their home ballparks are only 62-63 all-time in winner-take-all postseason games, including 30-27 in best-of-seven series.

Astros starter Framber Valdez allowed three runs in five innings on two swings of the bat, falling to 0-3 with a 9.00 ERA in three postseason starts this year. Garver hit a solo homer to right field in the second, and Heim barely cleared the right-field wall in the fourth for a two-run homer that put Texas ahead, 3-1.

“I think seven out of their nine runs scored were on homers,” Baker said. “So you've really got to keep them in the ballpark. And you've got to keep them out of that big inning, like their ninth was. They’re very capable of having a big inning, but the more you stop that and limit the innings to low-runs-scored innings, the better chance you have to win.”