Rangers head home with commanding ALCS lead

Offense pounces with four-run 1st before Eovaldi, Leclerc hold off Astros in Game 2

October 18th, 2023

HOUSTON -- From the jump on Monday afternoon, the Rangers were all over the Astros -- beginning with ’s base hit on the very first pitch of the game. By the seventh pitch, Texas had a one-run lead against its in-state rival at Minute Maid Park, and it turned into a big first inning that put the Rangers in position for one of their most clutch wins of the year.

There were some close calls, but the Rangers never relinquished the lead, holding on for a 5-4 win at Minute Maid Park to take a commanding 2-0 advantage in the American League Championship Series.

The Rangers are just the sixth team to win each of their first seven games in a single postseason, just one victory short of the 2014 Royals for the longest unbeaten streak in a postseason. They have trailed at the end of only one full inning this postseason.

And now they head back to Arlington with the chance to clinch the series in front of the home fans. It's the first time Texas has won back-to-back games at Minute Maid Park since July 27-29, 2018, when they won three straight to sweep the series.

“I feel like we're just trying to ride that wave right now,” starting pitcher said. “We’ve got a really good momentum going for us. Whether we're on the road or we're at home, we're in the postseason, and that's all that matters for us. We've been playing really good baseball. We're just trying to keep it going.”

Eovaldi continued his postseason dominance, grinding through six innings against the Astros, allowing just three runs and preventing them from delivering a big blow. His defining moment came in the fifth inning, when he allowed back-to-back singles to lead off the frame and an error by Josh Jung loaded the bases with no outs.

But "Big Game Nate" came through once again, striking out Yainer Diaz and Jose Altuve before getting Alex Bregman to ground out to end the threat.

“Well, I think you're talking about one of the elite pitchers in the game,” manager Bruce Bochy said of Eovaldi. “They have that ability to turn up a notch when they have to.”

“It's tough in that situation,” Eovaldi said. “Altuve had a lot of success against me in the past. Once I got him, you're close but you're not out of the woods yet because Bregman is equally as talented. I was able to make a good pitch and get us out of the jam, and I felt like that was one of the turning points of the game.”

Eovaldi’s massive outing and an offense that got to Astros starter Framber Valdez early and often -- tagging him for four runs in the first inning -- kept the game just out of reach of Houston, which steadily chipped away at the lead all night.

After walking the first two batters he faced in the eighth inning -- putting the potential go-ahead run on first base -- slammed the door with a four-out save.

“I felt a little accelerated out there, it's pressure at the moment in a one-run game,” Leclerc said. “I didn't have my best stuff out there either, but I just trusted what I had and tried to compete and tried to get those outs.”

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%). While 14 teams have rallied in these situations, only two have done so 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).

In series with the current 2-3-2 format, 26 of 29 teams (90%) to take Games 1-2 on the road have gone on to win, with the only three exceptions occurring in the World Series: the 1996 Yankees (vs. Braves), 1986 Mets (vs. Red Sox) and 1985 Royals (Cardinals).

The Rangers are now just two wins away from their first World Series appearance since 2011, but the mindset doesn’t change.

“Big picture, it's kind of crazy to think about,” designated hitter Mitch Garver said. “But small picture, we're still playing with that underdog mentality. We're fighting and scratching here for wins. Yeah, we’re two wins away from the World Series, but we're taking it one game at a time.

“[The Astros] are the reigning champs and you have to give them that respect. They won the [American League] West, and we're a Wild Card team. We have that [underdog] mentality about us.”