By Field Level Media
October 21, 2023 – 2:17 AM UTC
Jose Altuve calmly stepped into one of the most chaotic postseason sequences in memory and did what he’s done more than any player in major league history.
Altuve hit the go-ahead, three-run homer in the ninth inning to cap a wild final three innings Friday and lift the Houston Astros to a 5-4 win over the Texas Rangers in Game 5 of the American League Championship Series in Arlington, Texas.
The defending World Series champion Astros won all three games in Arlington to take a 3-2 lead in the best-of-seven series. Game 6 is scheduled for Sunday night in Houston.
“That was a huge, huge victory,” Astros manager Dusty Baker said. “This will go down in history.”
Altuve hit his 26th career postseason homer, second-most all time behind Manny Ramirez (29). Also his record third go-ahead homer in the ninth inning or later of a playoff game, Altuve’s smash came a half-inning after Baker, Astros pitcher Bryan Abreu and Rangers right fielder Adolis Garcia were ejected following a benches-clearing incident.
Asked on Fox where Friday’s homer ranked among his postseason favorites, Altuve replied, “Number one, because it was tonight, it just happened. I’m really happy. We were down, we didn’t want to go home down one.”
Garcia — who put the Rangers ahead 4-2 with a three-run homer in the sixth and admired the 396-foot blast before spiking his bat upon starting his trot — was plunked when he batted in the eighth. With a runner on first and the Rangers still ahead by two, Abreu’s 98 mph fastball got Garcia on the arm.
“I don’t think anybody is mad about him pimping a homer — it was the biggest homer of his career, quite honestly,” said Astros pitcher Justin Verlander, who surrendered the round-tripper. “Obviously he thought something might happen, though, because it was a pretty quick reaction (after the hit by pitch).”
Garcia immediately turned and yelled at Astros catcher Martin Maldonado as the benches and bullpens emptied.
“I just reacted to the ball that came towards me,” Garcia said. “It was something, in that situation, (Abreu) could have hurt me, he could have injured me. I just let (Maldonado) know that shouldn’t happen there.”
Abreu and Garcia were ejected after a lengthy delay, and the 74-year-old Baker followed suit after throwing his hat during an argument with umpires. He subsequently refused to leave his seat in the dugout before finally exiting.
“I can understand how he’d take exception to that — nobody likes to get hit,” Baker said. “But you’re not going to add runs on in the (eighth) inning in the playoffs when we’re trying to win a game. How do you prove intent? That’s what I don’t understand.
“And I haven’t been that mad in a long time. And I don’t usually get mad about nothing. So I’m just glad that we won the game and it turned out right for us.”
Astros closer Ryan Pressly (1-0) got three outs to strand a pair of runners in the eighth before Houston rallied in the ninth against Jose Leclerc (0-1). Leclerc had entered the game to retire pinch hitter Michael Brantley with a runner on second to end the top of the eighth before watching the lengthy bottom of the frame from the dugout.
Pinch hitter Yainer Diaz led off the Houston ninth with a single and pinch hitter Jon Singleton — in his first career postseason plate appearance — worked a walk before Altuve hit an 0-1 pitch 382 feet to left.
“He’s incredible — he’s so clutch,” Astros third baseman Alex Bregman told Fox. “He has a low heartbeat and it seems like, with the biggest moments in franchise history, he always comes through.
“Just in awe. Really. And I get to see him on a daily basis. Just in awe.”
Rangers manager Bruce Bochy lamented the delay and the impact it might have had on Leclerc, who entered Friday having allowed just one run over his last 16 innings dating back to Sept. 14.
“He’s been really good,” Bochy said. “I was concerned about that delay, I really was. It was a long one. It was taking too long, to be honest. The whole thing is a bunch of crap, to be honest, what happened there.”
The Rangers threatened against Pressly in the bottom of the ninth, when Mitch Garver and Jonah Heim opened with singles. But Marcus Semien lined out to a leaping Grae Kessinger — in the game at short after pinch-running for Singleton — and Corey Seager flied out to the track in left-center field before Pressly struck out Evan Carter.
“We had our chances to tack on. We just couldn’t do it,” Bochy said.
Bregman homered in the first for the Astros, and Nathaniel Lowe tied the game with a solo shot in the fifth.
Verlander gave up four runs on six hits and one walk while striking out three over 5 2/3 innings.
Texas starter Jordan Montgomery allowed two runs on five hits and two walks while striking out three over 5 1/3 innings.
The Rangers are trying to avoid becoming the fourth team in the wild-card era to squander a two-games-to-none lead in a best-of-seven series.
“You’re going to get punched in the gut, you have some tough losses — these guys have been through it,” Bochy said. “They’ve done a great job of bouncing back all year. And I’m confident that they will.”
–Field Level Media