ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) — Jose Altuve hit a home run, Cristian Javier worked his way into the sixth inning of another solid postseason start and the Houston Astros beat the Texas Rangers 8-5 on Wednesday night to finish 2-1 in the AL Championship Series.
Texas lost for the first time this postseason after a 7-0 start. Three-time Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer was out after four innings in his first game in more than a month after recovering from a shoulder injury.
Javier set a franchise record for the defending champion Astros by extending their postseason scoreless streak to 20 1/3 innings. His streak ended in the fifth when rookie Josh Jung hit the first of his two two-run home runs.
Javier, a 26-year-old Dominican right-hander known as “El Reptil,” limited the Rangers to two runs and three hits over 5 2/3 innings in his second win of the postseason. Third reliever Ryan Pressly hit Jung’s game-winning double-play grounder for his ninth save of the playoffs.
Martin Maldonado, the catcher who wore reptile-skin spines in reference to his pitcher’s nickname, and Yordan Alvarez both had two-run singles for the Astros.
Jung hit his second two-run home run in the seventh for the wild-card Rangers, who were playing just their second home game this postseason. They defeated Tampa Bay and Baltimore – the AL’s top two teams in the regular season – to reach their first ALCS since 2011 and their first postseason series against their established AL West rival.
Game 4 takes place on Thursday evening and Game 5 takes place on Friday afternoon. The Astros have won 17 of their last 20 road games, including their two wins at Minnesota in the AL Division Series and a record-setting streak at Globe Life Field in early September when they scored 16 and outscored Texas 39-10 in a three-game sweep.
Philadelphia, which swept three games at Globe Life Field to open this season, is 2-0 in the NLCS, which continues Thursday in Arizona.
The Rangers trailed after just one of the previous 64 innings this postseason until Houston took a three-run second lead and secured their stay.
Alvarez was hit on his left foot by an 89 mph cutter early in that frame, Kyle Tucker struggled to walk and Mauricio Dubon loaded the bases with a single. Alvarez came home when Scherzer bounced a wild pitch off Jonah Heim’s mitt and Maldonado, the No. 9 hitter, followed with his big hit.
Altuve, who struck out five deep in that September series, hit a home run in the third. Jose Abreu doubled on the first pitch in the fourth and scored on a single by Dubon for a 5-0 lead.
As Scherzer reached the dugout and stood on the steps after those back-to-back Ks, there was a brief conversation with manager Bruce Bochy, who at one point pointed toward the Rangers’ bullpen in right-center.
The 39-year-old Scherzer, a trade deadline acquisition from the Mets, gave up five runs and five hits. In his only postseason start for New York, he allowed seven runs and seven hits, including four home runs, in 4 2/3 innings in a 7-1 loss to San Diego in the NL Wild Card Series last season.
Scherzer was dealing with forearm tightness six weeks ago when he allowed seven runs – all on three homers – over three innings in the Astros’ 12-3 win that concluded the September series. Six days later, on September 12 in Toronto, he pitched 5 1/3 scoreless innings before being placed on the injured list because of the shoulder strain.
Javier was exhausted after rookie Evan Carter sent a hard two-out liner to right in the sixth, a ball that sailed over Tucker’s head to the wall after being misplayed by the Gold Glove finalist for a double. Hector Neris then replaced Javier and the innings quickly ended with a defensive gem.
Left fielder Michael Brantley, a 36-year-old five-time All-Star who returned in August after missing 14 months with a shoulder injury, sprinted more than 80 feet to make a diving catch in the gap and gain an extra base offside scored by Adolis Garcia.
That still wasn’t the best defensive play of the night.
Alvarez was denied his seventh home run of the postseason when he hit a 416-foot drive straight to center to start the sixth, where Leody Taveras made a diving catch with his arm outstretched over the wall.
LOTS OF ZEROES
Javier’s 20 1/3 innings surpassed Joe Niekro’s 18 innings, tying the longest scoreless streak in Astros history for both starters and relievers. It is the second-longest MLB scoreless streak for a starter in his first postseason starts, behind Christy Mathewson’s 28 innings from 1905 to 1911.
Scherzer became the second pitcher to start for five teams in the postseason, following appearances for Detroit, Washington, the Los Angeles Dodgers and the New York Mets. David Wells started for Cincinnati, Baltimore, the Yankees, Boston and San Diego from 1989 to 2006.