One of the most seasoned postseason pitchers in baseball history is Justin Verlander. So it was a simple decision for Houston Astros manager Dusty Baker to start the ace in Game 1 of the American League Championship Series against the Texas Rangers on Sunday.
Verlander, who lasted six and a third innings and surrendered six hits and two runs, was expected to put up a difficult effort by the Rangers.
Yet, the Rangers’ 2-0 victory over the future Hall of Famer and reigning World Series winners in the opening game behind starter Jordan Montgomery was just enough for them to upset them.
Texas manager Bruce Bochy said, “We just found a way to get a couple of runs across the board. “Obviously, that made the difference in the game. But Monty, our guy, did a fantastic job; he was really good.”
With a 1-2-3 first inning and a week between starts, Verlander didn’t show any rust. But it became evident as the game went on that Verlander was struggling to get Rangers hitters to swing and miss at anything, much less strike them out.
Verlander admitted, “I was a little unpredictable the first couple of innings, especially fastball control. “As the game progressed, in my opinion, it got cleaner. In the last few innings, I kind of found my groove. Undoubtedly, that was one terrible pitch, and [Leody Taveras] scored another run as a result. Overall, I felt that the game improved steadily as it progressed.”
The Rangers’ No. 9 hitter, Taveras, took three inside curveballs with good action and a four-seamer that almost missed inside for a walk in the second inning, loading the bases for the top of the order at the time.
At that moment, the Rangers had already caused some harm. When Astros right fielder Kyle Tucker didn’t throw the ball to second base soon away because he didn’t anticipate the Texas rookie’s acceleration, Evan Carter turned a single that deflected off Astros first baseman José Abreu into a double. Carter was then able to score thanks to an RBI single from Jonah Heim.
Before Taveras walked, Josh Jung hit, but Marcus Semien couldn’t put the game away as he popped out to Astros second baseman Jose Altuve, giving the Rangers a 1-0 lead.
Taveras hit the first postseason home run of his career with a shot to right field in the fifth inning, after which Verlander retired the next seven Rangers in a row.
After walking Heim and allowing Taveras to single in the seventh, the Rangers ultimately chased Verlander from the game.
A lineup that deep makes it difficult to concentrate on a small group of batters and declare that if I don’t let them beat me, I’ll be fine, Verlander said. “Each of their men has a chance to defeat you. You must be focused on games 1 through 9. And they’ll make you pay if you’re not.”
Verlander had a strong start, but it wasn’t his best work. As a result, the Rangers had a chance to win a game on the road.
Tuesday afternoon, the series resumes at Minute Maid Park with Texas starting Nathan Eovaldi and Houston responding with Framber Valdez.
As the series moves to Globe Life Field in Arlington for Game 3, Max Scherzer is anticipated to make his postseason debut.