Rangers outmanuever Astros late, forcing ALCS Game 7 in Houston

HOUSTON — The Rangers‘ bullpen atoned for its previous blunders by silencing the Astros and taking this American League Championship Series to a Game 7. 

The Astros threatened to come back, as they always do, in the eighth inning — down two runs and ready to feast on the Texas relief corps. Josh Sborz walked his first batter, impressively struck out Yordan Álvarez, and then gave up a single to José Abreu. With the Rangers threatening to squander another lead, manager Bruce Bochy completely bypassed his usual, and erratic, eighth-inning arm: Aroldis Chapman. Instead, Bochy boldly went straight to closer José Leclerc to get out of the sticky situation.

It worked. 

Bochy looked like a genius when Leclerc, with two outs to secure, escaped a bases-loaded situation. After inducing a lineout from Mauricio Dubon, Leclerc whiffed Jon Singleton to end a suspenseful eight-pitch at-bat. Leclerc, two days removed from blowing a two-run lead, howled and triumphantly pounded his chest on the mound to punctuate his high-leverage execution Sunday. 

As it turned out, the Rangers didn’t need Leclerc for the ninth. Adolis García smashed a grand slam in the top of the ninth inning to break the game open in Texas’ 9-2 win at Minute Maid Park, forcing a Game 7 of this ALCS on Monday (FOX, 8:03 p.m. ET). 

García had heard it from the crowd during lineup introductions and throughout all of his at-bats. Astros fans mercilessly booed the ranger slugger all night, and it’s possible the noise — or just the emotions and aftermath of the past couple of games — initially got to him. 

All eyes were on García and Bryan Abreu in the eighth inning as the two faced off just 48 hours after inciting a benches-clearing incident. The 42,368 in attendance saved their loudest booing for this at-bat. But the clash was briefly delayed when catcher Martín Maldonado stepped out of the box to readjust the PitchCom device in his ear. It was a curious move by Maldonado, given García had just pointed a finger in the catcher’s face on Friday, but it’s also possible he really couldn’t hear the PitchCom given how loud the building was. 

The at-bat eventually began with Abreu hurling a 99 mph fastball several inches off the plate. Maldonado had to get out of his squat to catch the ball. But then Abreu locked back in and challenged García with two consecutive high fastballs; the slugger whiffed at the first, and fouled off the second. Finally, Abreu laid down his 88 mph slider and García fell victim to the change in speed. García slowly walked back to the Rangers dugout after his fourth strikeout of the night as Astros fans ferociously mocked him. 

José Leclerc strikes out Jon Singleton to get out of bases-loaded jam

Abreu was only allowed to pitch Sunday because he appealed his two-game suspension, which he may have to serve during Monday’s Game 7. In Game 5, Abreu drilled García near the shoulder in the eighth inning with the Astros trailing by two runs. The ALCS umpiring crew and then Major League Baseball decided Abreu hit García intentionally. Abreu’s appeal will be heard Monday. 

While García went down quietly in each of his first four at-bats, before emphatically exacting his revenge the fifth time up, his teammates managed to do a lot of damage prior. 

Mitch Garver crushed a solo shot off Framber Valdez in the second inning and Jonah Heim parked a two-run homer to the opposite field in the fourth. Though Valdez retired García in each of their two meetings, Astros manager Dusty Baker didn’t want to take another chance. Valdez was replaced by Astros reliever Phil Maton to prevent García from getting a third look at the starter. 

Bochy, though, did not have the same approach as his managerial counterpart. The Texas skipper allowed starting pitcher Nathan Eovaldi to face October legend Jose Altuve four — yes, four! — times. That might be surprising if it had come from anyone other than Bochy, but given the state of his bullpen, the decision was tough to question. Rangers relievers combined to post the 19th-worst ERA (4.28) in MLB this year, the lack of bullpen depth perhaps the biggest difference between these AL West rivals. 

So, credit to Eovaldi for lasting as long as he did, recording an out in the seventh inning before Altuve lined a single and chased him. Bochy turned to the first arm in his circle of trust, Sborz, who protected a one-run lead by inducing an inning-ending double play from Michael Brantley. Eovaldi shouted his approval from the dugout. The decision was one of many in the final innings that couldn’t have gone better for Bochy and the Rangers.

Their good process and production Sunday earned them another game — for all of the American League marbles.

Deesha Thosar is an MLB writer for FOX Sports. She previously covered the Mets as a beat reporter for the New York Daily News. The daughter of Indian immigrants, Deesha grew up on Long Island and now lives in Queens. Follow her on Twitter at @DeeshaThosar. 

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