HOUSTON – Jonah Heim hit a home run, Nathan Eovaldi pitched six effective innings and the Texas Rangers beat Framber Valdez and Houston Astros 5-4 on Monday to take a 2-0 lead in the AL Championship Series.
Adolis Garcia, Mitch Garver and Nathaniel Lowe each had an RBI single in Texas’ four-run first inning against Valdez, and Jose Leclerc closed out the Rangers after Yordan Alvarez drove an Astros rally.
Eovaldi hit nine strikeouts, including two in a row after Houston loaded the bases without an out in the fifth. He was credited with three runs and five hits in his third win of the postseason.
The Rangers improved to 7-0 in the playoffs, including six road wins. They defeated the Rays in the Wild Card Series and the Orioles in the Division Series, then posted a 2-0 victory in Houston in the ALCS opener.
Game 3 of the best-of-seven series takes place Wednesday night in Arlington.
Alvarez hit two solo home runs, becoming the sixth player in MLB history to have two multi-homer games in a postseason. The second goal came from Aroldis Chapman, who reduced Houston’s deficit to 5:4 with two goals in the eighth period.
Then Leclerc came into play and went to Jose Abreu and Michael Brantley, but Chas McCormick got through and ended the danger.
Jeremy Pena flied out to right field for the first time in Houston’s ninth game. Then Yainer Diaz hit the ground and Jose Altuve flew up the middle, giving Leclerc his second save of the series.
The Astros, who posted a 39-42 home record during the regular season, continued to struggle at Minute Maid Park. The defending champions lost 3-1 at home in the playoffs this season.
The Rangers jumped over Valdez. Semien hits the first pitch for a single to center field. Corey Seager sent his next pitch to left field for another single before Valdez made two errors on the same play on a ball hit by Robbie Grossman.
Valdez deflected a chopper hit by Grossman, allowing an error that allowed him to reach first and allow Semien to score. His second mistake came when he roughly overthrew the first, putting Grossman in second and Seager in third.
At the end of the piece, Valdez put his hands on his knees and shook his head.
Garcia then hit a liner to right field to score Seager. Garver scored another run with a single before Valdez finally got his first out by striking out home.
The Rangers weren’t done yet.
Lowe hit a ground ball to left to make it 4-0. Valdez retired the next two batters to end the inning.
Alex Bregman also scored for the Astros, who went 0 for 6 with runners in scoring position. Alvarez, who is battling an illness, looked much better than he did in Game 1, when he went 0 for 4 with three strikeouts.
Valdez (0-2) allowed seven hits and five runs – four earned – in 2 2/3 innings in his second loss this postseason. He also suffered the loss in Game 2 of the Division Series against Minnesota.
The Astros missed a huge opportunity in the fifth. Brantley and McCormick hit back-to-back singles to open the inning before Pena reached on an error by third baseman Josh Jung.
But Eovaldi escaped the jam by striking out pinch hitters Diaz and Altuve before Bregman grounded out.
Alvarez got one out in the sixth before scoring on a two-out double by Brantley. Alvarez also hit a leadoff home run into the second deck in right field in the second.
Heim hit a home run high off the left field wall to extend the lead to 5-1 with no outs in the third.
Max Scherzer will start Game 3 for Texas after being sidelined since Sept. 12 with a strained muscle in his shoulder. This will be the fifth different team the three-time Cy Young Award winner has pitched for in the postseason.
The Astros have not yet announced their starter.