ARLINGTON, Texas — If the Houston Astros are going to do the unprecedented, and add another thrilling chapter to their distinguished legacy, it’s going to take practically everybody. It’s going to take more nights like Wednesday, when timely hits and big catches and clutch pitching performances throughout their roster sparked a desperately needed 8-5 road win over the Texas Rangers in Game 3 of the American League Championship Series.
“There was no other option,” Astros designated hitter Yordan Alvarez said in Spanish. “The only mentality was to go out and win. I’ve said it before — there’s no panic here. We showed that.”
No team throughout history — aside from the 2020 postseason, staged mostly in a bubble amid the COVID-19 pandemic — lost two home games to begin a league championship series and went on to advance. Few teams, however, are built like these Astros, who have reached their seventh consecutive ALCS and have overcome enough adversity in that time to fill a memoir. In their minds, they’ve faced bigger challenges than winning four out of five playoff games.
“We’ve been punched in the mouth a lot during the postseason over the last seven years,” Astros third baseman Alex Bregman said. “We just try to continue to show up and try to continue to work.”
Max Scherzer returned from a teres major strain to make his first start in a little over five weeks and didn’t pitch past the fourth inning. The Astros strung together three runs in the second, scoring on a couple of wild pitches and a two-run single from No. 9-hitting catcher Martin Maldonado. Jose Altuve added a home run to lead off the third and Mauricio Dubon cranked a run-scoring single with one out in the fourth, his second of three hits, giving the Astros a 5-0 lead before the midway part of the game.
The Rangers, blitzing through this postseason with seven consecutive victories, showed life in what was only their second home game all month. Rookie third baseman Josh Jung homered twice, knocking in a combined four runs in the fifth and seventh innings. And Leody Taveras leaped up against the center-field fence to take away what would have been Alvarez’s seventh home run in seven playoff games.
But the biggest catch was turned in a half-inning later.
With one on and two outs and the Astros clinging to a three-run lead, 36-year-old left fielder Michael Brantley — the same Michael Brantley who spent 14 months recovering from a torn labrum in his shoulder, suffering two setbacks in the process — ran 82 feet into Globe Life Field’s spacious left-center-field gap and made an outstretched, stumbling catch near the warning track, robbing Adolis Garcia of extra bases.
Maldonado called it “a game-changer.”
“That guy,” he said, “it seems like every game he does something different.”
“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. I asked the team in spring training to be the best road team. Maybe I should’ve asked them to be the best road and home team. They usually give me what I ask for.”
Astros manager Dusty Baker
The Rangers stunned the baseball world by taking the first two games from Houston’s Minute Maid Park, but the Astros hardly seemed bothered by it. They lost both contests by a combined three runs, pitching sensationally in Game 1 and recovering admirably after Framber Valdez‘s nightmare first inning in Game 2. They trusted the remarkable calmness of Cristian Javier, who wound up allowing only two runs through the first five innings of Game 3, and they believed at some point their decorated lineup would produce around the hot-hitting Alvarez.
There was also this unavoidable fact: the 2023 Astros are, for some reason, almost unbeatable on the road.
They went just 39-42 at home but 51-30 away from it during the regular season. They won three consecutive games in Arlington, Texas, in early September, outscoring the Rangers by a combined 29 runs in the process. And they’ve now won three consecutive road games this postseason, needing at least one more to send this series back to Houston.
Alvarez suggested the Astros wear their gray uniforms if they get back there.
“It’s the strangest thing I’ve ever seen,” Astros manager Dusty Baker said. “Because usually you want to be .500 on the road and way over .500 at home. I asked the team in spring training to be the best road team. Maybe I should’ve asked them to be the best road and home team. They usually give me what I ask for.”