ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) — Jose Altuve homered, Cristian Javier worked into the sixth inning of another solid postseason start and the Houston Astros beat the Texas Rangers 8-5 on Wednesday night, closing to 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 gone after four innings in his first outing in more than a month after recovering from a strained shoulder muscle.
Javier set a franchise record for the defending champion Astros by extending his postseason scoreless streak to 20 1/3 innings. That streak ended in the fifth when rookie Josh Jung hit the first of his pair of two-run homers.
Javier improved to 4-0 in his four career postseason starts, allowing just five hits.
“I always try to have the same mentality. These moments are extremely special for me,” he said through a translator. “When it comes to the game, just try to stay focused, try and attack the strike zone.”
A 26-year-old Dominican right-hander known as “El Reptil,” Javier limited the Rangers to two runs and three hits over 5 2/3 innings in his second win in these playoffs. He threw 51 of 85 pitches for strikes.
Ryan Pressly, the third reliever, worked the ninth for his third save of the playoffs, inducing Jung’s game-ending, double-play grounder.
Martín Maldonado, the catcher wearing reptile-skin spikes in reference to his pitcher’s nickname, and Yordan Alvarez both had two-run singles for the Astros, who scored five runs with two outs.
Jung hit his second two-run homer in the seventh for the wild-card Rangers, who played only their second home game this postseason. They swept Tampa Bay and Baltimore — the AL’s top two teams in the regular season — to get to their first ALCS since 2011 and their first postseason series against their instate AL West rival.
Game 4 is Thursday night and Game 5 will be Friday afternoon.
The Astros are 40-45 at home this year, losing three of four in the playoffs. But they have won 17 of their last 20 road games, including both at Minnesota in the AL Division Series and three during a record-setting sweep at Globe Life Field in early September, when they homered 16 times and outscored Texas 39-10.
“It’s the strangest thing I’ve ever seen because usually you want to be .500 on the road and way over .500 at home,” Astros manager Dusty Baker said. “I asked the team in spring training to be the best road team. Maybe I should have asked them to be the best road and home team. They usually give me what I ask for.”
Philadelphia, which got swept in three games at Globe Life Field opening the season, has a 2-0 lead in the NLCS, which resumes Thursday in Arizona.
The Rangers had trailed after only one of the previous 64 innings this postseason until a three-run second that put Houston ahead to stay.
Alvarez was hit by a 89 mph cutter on his left foot to start that frame, struggling Kyle Tucker walked and Mauricio Dubón loaded the bases with a single. Alvarez came home as Scherzer bounced a wild pitch off Jonah Heim’s mitt and Maldonado, the No. 9 batter, followed with his big hit
Altuve, who went deep five times in that September series, homered leading off the third. José Abreu doubled on the first pitch in the fourth and scored a single by Dubón for a 5-0 lead.
When Scherzer got to the dugout and stopped on the steps after those consecutive Ks, there was a brief conversation with manager Bruce Bochy, who at one point motioned toward the Rangers bullpen in right-center.
“He’s going to be a little rusty, it’s been a month since he’s been out there. But overall I was really pleased with the stuff,” Bochy said. “It’s only going to get better with him. But just made some mistakes there, they got the big two-out hit early, the wild pitch and then the two-out hit.”
Bochy said, most importantly, Scherzer felt fine after the outing.
The 39-year-old Scherzer, a trade-deadline acquisition from the Mets, gave up five runs and five hits.
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 wrapped up that September series. He threw 5 1/3 scoreless innings six days later, on Sept. 12 at Toronto, before going on the injured list because of the shoulder strain.
Javier was done after rookie Evan Carter’s hard two-out liner to right in the sixth, a ball that sailed over Tucker’s head to the wall after being misplayed into a double by the Gold Glove finalist. Hector Neris then replaced Javier, and the inning 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 take an extra-base hit away from Adolis García.
That still might not have been the best defensive play of the night.
Alvarez got robbed of what would have been his seventh homer this postseason on a 416-foot drive to straightaway center leading off the sixth. Leody Taveras made a leaping catch with his arm extended beyond the wall.
LOT OF ZEROES
Javier’s 20 1/3 innings passed Joe Niekro’s 18 innings for the longest scoreless streak in Astros history, for starters or relievers. It is the second-longest MLB scoreless streak for a starter in his first postseason starts, behind Christy Mathewson’s 28 innings from 1905-11.
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 1989-2006.