Leclerc hits ill-timed snag with 1st blown save of postseason run

Righty gives up three-run homer to Altuve in 9th inning of Rangers' ALCS Game 5 loss

October 22nd, 2023

ARLINGTON -- José Leclerc refuses to make excuses.

The Rangers’ closer blew his first save in four opportunities this postseason as Texas took a 5-4 loss to the Astros in Friday’s Game 5 of the American League Championship Series. The definitive blow came on a three-run homer by Jose Altuve in the bottom of the ninth, which helped Houston claw back from a two-run deficit and take a 3-2 series lead.

This was far from a regular outing for Leclerc, who was tasked with getting the final out of the eighth inning and then had to sit for 25 minutes before taking the mound again, as tempers flared, the dugouts cleared and ejections piled up in the top of the ninth at Globe Life Field.

“I was concerned about that delay. I really was,” said Rangers manager Bruce Bochy. “It was a long one. It was taking too long, to be honest. … And I'm sure it affected [Leclerc], because he came in to get an out there in the eighth inning. Maybe that played a part in it.”

Leclerc conceded that this was a unique situation, but he’s not ready to attribute his struggles to the extended delay.

“Honestly, I don’t know. At the end of the day, I felt fine [going back to the mound],” Leclerc said in Spanish. “I’m not used to waiting that long to go back to pitching, but I don’t have any excuses. I feel like I should have executed my pitches better and I should have done a better job.”

This one was a grinder even before the benches cleared.

Leclerc needed eight pitches to get that final out in the eighth, finally inducing a popup from Michael Brantley to strand an Astros runner on second base. The next half brought some of the wildest moments this series has provided, with Adolis García getting hit by a pitch from Bryan Abreu after hitting a three-run homer in his previous at-bat.

The 29-year-old Leclerc was nowhere near the fracas, instead choosing to sit in the training room to stay focused. Pitching coach Mike Maddux asked if Leclerc wanted to throw some warmup pitches before the bottom of the ninth, but the right-hander said he felt fine. He’d pitched after an injury delay before, and he retired the side on that occasion.

This time, Leclerc proceeded to allow a single and a walk before Altuve stepped up and turned the score on its head.

“My body felt fine, everything was OK, but something with my arm may have been off, maybe it wasn’t 100 percent,” said Leclerc. “Still, this is not an excuse. I feel like I should have done a better job with the first two batters. With Altuve, I actually felt like I did well. Altuve is simply a good ballplayer, and you’ve got to recognize how good he is.”

Although this time Leclerc couldn’t contain the playoff legend that Altuve has become, the right-hander has been lights out this postseason.

Leclerc had allowed just one earned run in 7 1/3 innings before Friday, striking out seven with three walks and four hits. Those numbers took a hit after the first blown save of his playoff career, but Leclerc is already thinking about his next outing.

“For me, today was a difficult day,” said Leclerc. “I hope that Bochy will give me another opportunity [to close]. But if he doesn’t, in whatever situation he calls on me, I will feel happy, because I’m helping the team. Today, I didn’t feel happy. I had the opportunity to close the game and I didn’t get the job done. But whatever situation he puts me in, I will give it my all.”

With the Rangers now in need of two wins at Minute Maid Park to book their ticket to the World Series, Bochy still has faith in his closer. The lights had to come back on at some point for Leclerc. The weight of the moment is what made it so tough.

“We play the game the right way, and unfortunately this happened at a tough time for José,” said Bochy. “But he's been so good. He just ... That one walk, I think, really hurt us at that point. It seems like that's always involved when [the Astros] have a rally like that. But his stuff was still good, he just gave up a home run to a good hitter.”