It was bound to happen. After fighting back from so many desperate situations in the past, today, the Astros fell short.
Once in a while, you’re not going to pull through.
It was bound to happen.
The Astros never gave up. Still, they choked.
The choke began with the starting pitching. It’s been a recurring nightmare all year. Will the starter on any given day pitch a no-hitter or get bombed? The nightmare part was getting bombed in a playoff game.
Framber Valdez threw a no-hitter earlier this year. He’s been bombed more often than not ever since. Today, the nightmare. He was bombed in Game 2 of the ALCS.
I’ll spare you the gory details. Suffice it to say, the Rangers jumped on Valdez immediately with four runs in the first inning. One was unearned, but it was Valdez’s own error that caused it. (He’s the worst fielding pitcher I've ever seen.)
In the third inning, he allowed a solo homer to Jonah Heim, leaving the game behind 5-1.
But the Astros didn’t quit. They began to touch Rangers starter Nathan Eovaldi in the second on a Yordan solo shot to deep right and then one by Alex Bregman in the fourth.
But the Astros' big choke was in the fifth inning. Two singles and a Rangers error loaded the bases with no outs. Yainer Diaz went in to pinch-hit for Martin Maldonado. The free-swinging Diaz worked a full count but went down swinging on an outside breaking ball, his bugaboo all year.
Jose Altuve was worse, going down in four pitches. And then Alex Bregman hit a weak ground out.
Just one run here may have decisively changed the outcome of this one-run game
The Astros managed to cut it even a little closer in the sixth. After walking, Yordan Alvarez scored from first on an Uncle Mike double. But Chas McCormick, who was stranded in the fifth, struck out on three consecutive breaking balls below the zone, stranding Brantley.
No one can say Yordan Alvarez choked. He hit another solo homer in the eighth, this one-off off Aroldis Chapman, which chased Chapman and bought on the Rangers closer, Jose LeClerc. Le Clerc then walked two batters, bringing up McCormick, who did choke, grounding out meekly to third against the reeling Le Clerc, leaving the Astros down 5-4.
No one can say the bullpen has choked this series, either. It hasn’t allowed a run in two games. Today, Rafael Montero, J.P. France, Bryan Abreu, and Ryan Pressly held the supposedly unstoppable Rangers after Valdez’s meltdown.
Facing a tired LeClerc in the ninth, Jeremy Pena led off with a flyout to the warning track, followed by a hard lineout by Diaz. Jose Altuve ended the game with a flyout to left center. It was a classic Altuve pitch to hit. It looked like it would hit the gas pump off the bat, but he just missed it.
Valdez is broken, but with Kyle Tucker and Jose Altuve hitless in the series, Jose Abreu and Jeremy Pena with only one hit each, and the catcher position a black hole, it’s hard to win even a well-pitched Verlander gem, much less a Framber blowout. Six hits and 0-6 with runners in scoring position will lose almost every time.
The Rangers’ Achilles heel is their bullpen. In two games now, the Astros have not gotten into the soft underbelly of said bullpen.
As much as I have advocated for Diaz for much of the year, now is a bad time to use him. He’s been watching the games from the bench for the last three weeks. To expect him to regain his eye and swing as a rookie under playoff pressure is setting him up to fail.
The Astros are not finished. We know what they did to the Rangers in September in their house. But it depends on two more up-and-down pitchers, Cristian Javier and Jose Urquidy.
If they stay as good as they have been in recent outings, this series will come back to Houston. If they pull a Framber, this could be a sweep.
Credit to the Astros, though, for this much. They turned what looked like an early rout into a nail-biter for the Rangers. They never quit. The Rangers know this isn’t over, too.
Wednesday’s game in Arlington will feature Cristian Javier against Max Scherzer, just off IL. We’ve counted on Scherzer being injured before, and it didn’t work out too well. Let’s hope his heart is ahead of his arm in this one.
Game time 7:03.