Monty, Rangers shut out Astros in ALCS opener

Texas wins sixth straight game to begin postseason, setting franchise-record streak

October 16th, 2023

HOUSTON -- Minute Maid Park has been a house of horrors of sorts for the Rangers in recent years. Since 2019, Texas has gone 8-32 with a minus-65 run differential when facing the Astros at Minute Maid Park, including this year when the two clubs split the series in Houston.

The Rangers exorcised a few of those demons on Sunday night in Game 1 of the American League Championship Series, coming away with a big 2-0 win as outdueled Justin Verlander. Texas is still undefeated this postseason, having won six straight contests.

“Whatever we did in the past doesn't matter now,” second baseman Marcus Semien said. “I mean, this is the biggest stage and we're not thinking about how we've done in the past year; we just focus on what we're doing. We played just well enough to win today. We want to score some more runs tomorrow and give our pitchers a little chance to relax.”

It was the first time this postseason that both starting pitchers have gone at least six innings, as Texas’ offense tagged Verlander for two runs on six hits over 6 2/3 innings. Nine-hole hitter Leody Taveras led the way with a 2-for-2 night at the plate and a solo homer to add some necessary insurance.

“He's been producing,” Semien said of Taveras. “He's been at the bottom of the order getting on base for the top all year. And when he hits for power, it's just an added bonus.”

Montgomery dealt his second scoreless start of the postseason, tossing 6 1/3 innings and limiting the Astros to just five hits, none of which went for extra bases.

Montgomery’s deep start allowed manager Bruce Bochy to use just three relievers -- Josh Sborz, Aroldis Chapman and José Leclerc -- who combined for the final 2 2/3 innings to shut out the Astros at home for the first time in the postseason since Game 6 of the 2021 World Series.

Chapman needed some help from rookie sensation Evan Carter, who made a leaping catch in left field and doubled off Jose Altuve at second base. After the Rangers challenged the safe call on the field, the veteran Altuve was ruled out for running past second base and not touching the bag on his way back to first.

After throwing seven scoreless innings against the Rays in Game 1 of the AL Wild Card Series, Montgomery became just the fourth pitcher in Rangers history to throw six or more scoreless frames in a postseason game. Now, he has two such starts.

“I'm always trying to go as deep into the game as I can,” Montgomery said. “So playoffs or not, it doesn't really matter. … But if it doesn't raise your game in the playoffs, I don't think you're doing it right. Obviously, I'm super excited to take the ball tonight. And any time I can give my team a chance to win, I'll do my best.”

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the Rangers have trailed at the end of only one full inning so far this postseason. That’s tied with the 2016 Cleveland Guardians for the fewest through the first six games of a single postseason.

The Rangers have also won each of their first five road games this postseason. Only two teams have started a postseason with longer road win streaks: the 1996 Yankees (8) and 2005 White Sox (6).

“Game 1 is a pivotal game in every series,” third baseman Josh Jung said. “For us, going out there, not necessarily clicking on all cylinders offensively and [still] being able to take this game is huge. Confidence-wise, yes. Switching home-field advantage per se is also huge. Game 1 in any series is huge, so being able to do that here with the crowd, it just definitely builds our confidence.”

A Game 1 win in Houston is a significant boost for the Rangers, who went 4-9 against the Astros in the regular season. With Max Scherzer’s return on the horizon, and Nathan Eovaldi on the mound for Game 2, the momentum has already swung in Texas’ favor.

In all best-of-seven postseason series, teams winning Game 1 have gone on to win the series 121 of 188 times (64%). In series with the current 2-3-2 format, teams taking a 1-0 lead on the road have gone on to win the series 39 of 70 times (56%).

It’s just one game, but the Rangers can’t deny each one matters in the postseason, especially at a place like Minute Maid Park that has tortured them for so long.

“We obviously know the past and how we've done in [Minute Maid], but none of that matters,” Jonah Heim said. “Now we’ve got [a few] games here to prove that we deserve to be here. I think we're off to a great start. … Getting a guy like Max back, and even Jon Gray on the roster, it’s a huge help for us and shows our depth.”