Sports

Eovaldi remains perfect, Rangers slug their way to 9-2 win over Astros to force Game 7 in ALCS

The road team has won every game in this series going into the decisive Game 7 on Monday night in Houston. Cristian Javier is scheduled to pitch for the Astros against three-time Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer.

Texas Rangers starting pitcher Nathan Eovaldi thorws during the first inning of Game 6 of the baseball AL Championship Series against the Houston Astros Sunday, Oct. 22, 2023, in Houston. (AP Photo/Godofredo A. Vásquez)
Texas Rangers starting pitcher Nathan Eovaldi thorws during the first inning of Game 6 of the baseball AL Championship Series against the Houston Astros Sunday, Oct. 22, 2023, in Houston. (AP Photo/Godofredo A. Vásquez)

One more Texas-sized matchup to finally settle this Lone Star State showdown.

Nathan Eovaldi remained perfect this postseason, and Mitch Garver and Jonah Heim homered early before a ninth-inning grand slam by Adolis García helped the Texas Rangers avoid elimination with a 9-2 win over the Houston Astros in Game 6 of the AL Championship Series on Sunday night.

Road teams are unbeaten in this series going into the decisive Game 7 on Monday night in Houston. Cristian Javier pitches for the Astros against three-time Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer. Javier beat Scherzer in Game 3 at Texas.

"I'm just proud of how these guys keep bouncing back," Rangers manager Bruce Bochy said. "They're amazing. They really are. They just don't let adversity get to them."

Texas and Houston had identical regular-season records (90-72), with the AL West title going to the Astros on a head-to-head tiebreaker. Now the heated rivals are tied once again, and this time the stakes are much higher — with a World Series trip on the line.

Eovaldi, who also won Game 2, yielded five hits and two runs in 6 1/3 innings to improve to 4-0 with a 2.42 ERA in the playoffs this year. The wild-card Rangers, one of six major league teams without a World Series title, are trying to return to the Fall Classic for the first time since back-to-back trips in 2010-11.

"Of course, Nate set the tone out there. How many times has he done that?" Bochy said. "And we just had great at-bats throughout the lineup."

The defending World Series champion Astros were again felled by a subpar start from Framber Valdez and lackluster play at home. Valdez was charged with five hits and three runs while striking out six in five innings to fall to 0-3 with a 9.00 ERA this postseason.

The Rangers led by two before breaking open the game with a five-run ninth, punctuated by the slam from García — who struck out his previous four times up. The slugger was booed throughout the game after being at the center of a bench-clearing scuffle in Game 5 after being hit by a pitch from Bryan Abreu.

When García knocked a pitch from Ryne Stanek into the Crawford Boxes in left field with one out, many of those fans began streaming for the exits after yet another poor showing at home by Houston.

The Astros, who are 5-0 on the road this postseason, won three in a row in Arlington wearing their orange jerseys to move within a win of reaching their third consecutive World Series. But those orange tops didn't help them carry their road magic home as they fell to 1-4 in Houston this postseason after posting a 39-42 mark at Minute Maid Park in the regular season.

"That doesn't matter. It's in the past,” left fielder Michael Brantley said. “We need to turn the page and be ready for tomorrow."

No team with a losing record at home has ever reached the World Series.

This series joins the 2019 World Series, which Houston lost to Washington in seven games, as the only best-of-seven series in postseason history in which the road team won the first six games.

"Seems a little odd nobody is winning at home," Garver said. "And I would like for it to stay that way."

Bochy was at a loss when asked to explain why home has been anything but sweet during this series.

"Wow, I wish I could answer that one," he said. "That's the million-dollar question."

Houston led by one after a first-inning RBI single by Yordan Alvarez. Garver tied it on his solo shot to start the second.

Heim connected off Valdez for the second time this series with a two-run shot with two outs in the fourth that put Texas on top 3-1.

"I think seven out of their nine runs scored were on homers. So you've really got to keep them in the ballpark," Astros manager Dusty Baker said.

Houston got within 3-2 on a sacrifice fly by Mauricio Dubón in the sixth. But the Rangers got some insurance thanks to an RBI double by Garver in the eighth off Abreu.

It was the first time the Rangers won an elimination game in the postseason since Game 5 of the 2010 AL Division Series at Tampa Bay when Cliff Lee pitched a complete game in a 5-1 Texas victory. They'd lost five straight such games, and Sunday's win was just their second in eight tries.

The Astros had a shot to cut into the lead late before García’s big swing, but Texas reliever José Leclerc came through after giving up the decisive three-run homer to Jose Altuve in the ninth inning of Game 5.

Josh Sborz walked Alex Bregman to start the Houston eighth and struck out Alvarez before José Abreu singled with one out.

Leclerc took over and walked Kyle Tucker to load the bases before Dubón lined out softly to shortstop. Pinch-hitter Jon Singleton, who entered with one career postseason at-bat, batted for Jeremy Peña and struck out against Leclerc to end the threat.

Houston went 1 for 8 with runners in scoring position.

"The name of the game is opportunities, and then after that you hope that you come through,” Baker said. "Some days you just don't get it done."

Alvarez got Houston's first hit since the first inning with a one-out single in the sixth. Dubón’s sacrifice fly cut the lead to one.

The Astros looked good early against Eovaldi. Altuve hit a leadoff single and stole second before Brantley walked. There was one out when Alvarez lined a single to make it 1-0. Eovaldi limited the damage when José Abreu lined out before Tucker struck out.

"I felt like I was trying to do a little too much out there," Eovaldi said of his shaky start. "One run ended up scoring and it's like, I've got to make sure I leave them there, and at that point of time, try to make sure I execute my pitches."

Garver sent the first pitch of the second inning into the seats in right field to tie it. The ball was caught barehanded by a man in the second row.

Garver, who had three hits, singled with two outs in the fourth, and Heim followed with his opposite-field shot to right field to make it 3-1. The ball sailed just past the glove of a leaping Tucker and into the first row. Heim, who had a career-high 18 home runs in the regular season, also homered off Valdez in Game 2.

Bryan Abreu pitched the eighth for Houston after appealing the two-game suspension he was given by Major League Baseball for intentionally throwing at García.

The reliever’s hearing is Monday before John McHale Jr., special assistant to Commissioner Rob Manfred.

"That could be a huge blow," Baker said. "You wish you had some final decision about his status. So we took a shot there. Hopefully some of this will be postponed and we'll have him tomorrow, as well."

Bryan Abreu struck out García in the eighth before an RBI double by Garver extended Texas’ lead to 4-2.

Corey Seager was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded in the ninth before García’s slam gave him five homers and 15 RBIs in 11 games this postseason. He has gone deep in each of the past three games.