Heartbreak at home: Rangers head back to Houston in must-win mode

Leclerc gives up go-ahead HR to Altuve after benches-clearing incident causes long delay

October 22nd, 2023

ARLINGTON -- When Globe Life Field truly erupted -- maybe for the first time during the American League Championship Series -- it felt like the Rangers finally had the edge back in the series. 

The Rangers played two dreadful games against the Astros in Games 3 and 4 of the ALCS, allowing their in-state division rival to tie the series in Arlington.

But the Rangers, at least for most of Friday night, seemed to punch back. A go-ahead three-run home run from in the sixth allowed the Rangers to take a minuscule lead over the Astros, one they held going into the ninth inning.

But , who has been as nails as a closer can be this postseason, had his biggest hiccup at the most inopportune moment, allowing a leadoff single to Yainer Diaz and a walk to nine-hole pinch-hitter Jon Singleton.

Jose Altuve didn’t blink, launching a three-run homer into the left-field stands to give the Astros a 5-4 lead. The Rangers would not come back this time, falling behind, 3-2, in the ALCS as the series heads back to Houston.

Like they have so many times before, the Astros made themselves at home in Globe Life Field, delivering maybe the biggest gut punch of the Lone Star Series to date. 

On top of another frustrating loss to Houston, things got heated between the two clubs after Astros reliever Bryan Abreu hit García with a 99 mph fastball in his first at-bat following the homer. Benches briefly cleared before both players and Astros manager Dusty Baker were ejected.

“I’ve never been so frustrated on the field,” said second baseman . “It’s a well-played game and a big swing by them once again. It’s up to us to respond now, that’s all I got. It’s the most [motivated] we've ever been. The season is on the line. It’s a building where we've played good baseball, and we need to continue to do that.”

Texas has mainly relied on three relievers throughout the postseason to keep things out of reach -- Leclerc, and . It always felt like that wouldn’t be sustainable. Things finally broke on Friday.

Leclerc denied that the nearly 25 minutes he sat between pitches after the benches cleared had anything to do with his hiccup, but manager Bruce Bochy disagreed. 

“He's been really good,” Bochy said. “I was concerned about that delay. I really was. It was a long one. It was taking too long, to be honest. The whole thing is a bunch of crap, to be honest, what happened there. Who knows what intentions are, but it's not the first time it's happened.

“And I'm sure it affected him, because he came in to get an out there in the eighth inning. Maybe that played a part in it. But they came out -- like I said, we had our chances to tack on, we just couldn't do it.”

When the Rangers took a lead on García’s homer, it marked the first time in the entire series that the home team held a lead. Now, the road team has won all five games to begin the ALCS, just the fourth best-of-seven series all-time to have that happen. 

“There's still games left,” García said. “There's another game that we have to turn towards, focus on. I'm going to keep letting the guys know, we still have a shot at this. We're going to keep grinding, and we're going to try to find a way to win.”

Teams taking a 2-0 lead in all best-of-seven postseason series have gone on to win that series 75 of 89 times (84%). Just 14 teams have rallied in these situations, and only two in the past 26 years: the 2020 Dodgers in the NLCS against the Braves and the 2004 Red Sox against the Yankees in the ALCS (down 3-0).

But teams ahead 3-2 in any best-of-seven postseason series have gone on to win 79 of 112 times (71%), though the 2019 Astros are the only team to ever win Games 3-5 on the road but still lose the series in the World Series against the Nationals.

No matter the scenario, the Rangers have their backs against the wall as they head back to Houston on the verge of elimination. They’ll have to win two at Minute Maid Park -- starting Sunday night with Game 2 winner Nathan Eovaldi on the mound -- to advance to their first World Series since 2011, with the reigning champs the only thing standing in Texas' way.

“We have no choice [but to bounce back] in this game,” Bochy said. “You're going to get punched in the gut, you have some tough losses, these guys have been through it. They've done a great job of bouncing back all year. I'm confident that they will. It's just a tough one, no getting around it. It's part of the game and what you have to deal with. Good clubs deal with it in the right way, and these guys, they'll put this behind them.”