There was a span of like three minutes tonight where this series took a sour turn. Last night’s loss seemed inevitable with Max Scherzer such a mystery and on a leash but Texas had a legit opportunity to take a 3-1 lead in this series after they battled back from the misstep that was naming Andrew Heaney the game’s starter.
Down 3-0 after the game’s first four hitters, the Rangers whittled the lead down and tied the game with two runs in the 2nd and a run in the 3rd. However, while still rallying in the inning and in search of a lead, the Astros made it a full bullpen game which was always a concerning proposition for Texas this October.
With two on and one out, the call for Ryne Stanek worked wonders as he got Mitch Garver to ground into a double play to end the threat and keep the game tied. Moments later, Dane Dunning, who had gotten the Rangers into the 4th after Heaney had recorded just two outs, promptly walked No. 9 hitter Martin Maldonado to lead off the top of the frame. It was an absolutely inexcusable outcome to potentially the worst regular hitter in the postseason and Texas absolutely paid for it.
With the lineup turned over, Jose Altuve walked, Mauricio Dubon singled to load the bases, and Dunning was able to get Alex Bregman to strike out for his final hitter of the night as the Rangers turned to Cody Bradford with the unenviable task of facing Yordan Alvarez with the bases loaded. It was the first time in the big leagues that Bradford had pitched on back to back nights and it felt almost inconceivable that the hopes of a critical playoff game would hang on Bradford’s young left shoulder. In many ways, considering everything that has happened this season, it also felt right.
After a nine-pitch battle, Bradford “won” by getting Alvarez to just barely miss destroying a 3-2 pitch that caught a significant amount of the plate as he flied out to right-center field just in front of the Rangers’ bullpen. It was deep enough to drive in the go-ahead run, and Bradford wasn’t out of the woods yet with former league MVP and suddenly good again Jose Abreu up next.
Getting out of the frame down a run wouldn’t have been the end of the world, even if that go-ahead and eventual winning run came thanks to the unacceptable Maldonado walk. However, after battling Abreu to a 2-2 count, Bradford, with nothing that anyone on Houston was going to swing and miss at, finally told Abreu to just hit it if he was going to hit it.
He did. A center cut 91 MPH fastball was launched to the second deck in left-center to put Houston up 7-3. With the air all the way out of the balloon, from there all that was left was seeing which of the unfavorable arms from the Rangers bullpen would help Houston tack on more runs (in this case, it was Will Smith and Martin Perez).
We all knew the problem up front. Could the Rangers sneak one of these games when Jordan Montgomery and Nathan Eovaldi aren’t available to go deep and hide the endless quantity of chaff that the Rangers keep among the scant amount of wheat in the bullpen?
Thus far, in Arlington, the answer to that has been a resounding no and now the series is tied. We’ve got what amounts to a best-of-three series now. The good news is, Montgomery and Eovaldi get to pitch in two of those.
Player of the Game: Adolis Garcia had a couple of hits, including a solo home run that got Texas on the board for their first run back when a comeback seemed possible. You know, in the halcyon moments when Martin Maldonado had not yet been walked.
Up Next: The Rangers will turn to one of their only good pitchers with LHP Jordan Montgomery tasked with once again dueling RHP Justin Verlander in a critical Game 5 showdown.
The Friday first pitch from The Shed is scheduled for 4:07 pm CT and you can again catch it on FS1.