Altuve’s HR in 9th give Astros 3-2 series lead

Published 2:24 am Saturday, October 21, 2023

ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) — Jose Altuve thrives under pressure for the Houston Astros, able to stay calm in the biggest October moments even after another bench-clearing fracas against the Texas Rangers.

The defending World Series champions are one win from a third consecutive pennant after Altuve’s three-run homer in the ninth inning of a wild and testy 5-4 victory over their instate division rival Friday gave the Astros a 3-2 lead in the AL Championship Series.

“He’s got a high concentration level, because that’s what it takes in big moments like that, is concentration, desire, and relaxation all encompassed into one. And everybody can’t do all three of those things,” Houston manager Dusty Baker said. “This dude is one of the baddest dudes I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen some greats.”

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Baker wasn’t in the dugout when Altuve hit his 26th career postseason homer, second in major league history behind Manny Ramirez (29). The skipper was ejected an inning earlier after the benches and bullpens cleared.

Rangers slugger Adolis García, who punctuated a go-ahead homer in the sixth with an empathic bat spike and a slow trot, became irate when Bryan Abreu hit him on the left arm with a 98 mph fastball. García immediately turned around and got in the face of catcher Martín Maldonado — the two also jawed nose-to-nose when García touched home plate after his grand slam in Houston on July 26.

“I just reacted to the ball that came towards me,” García said. “He could have hurt me, he could have injured me. I just let him know that shouldn’t happen there.”

While it didn’t appear any punches were thrown as the teams grabbed hold of each other near home plate, the game was delayed almost 12 minutes. García, Abreu and Baker were all ejected.

After the game, umpire crew chief James Hoye told a pool reporter Abreu was ejected for throwing with intent, and García was tossed for being the aggressor.

“The guy hits a three-run homer; the next time up he gets smoked,” Texas manager Bruce Bochy said. “I’d be upset, too, if I was Doli. But like I said, it just took too long to get things back in order, that’s what was frustrating me.”

Rangers closer José Leclerc gave up a single to pinch-hitter Yainer Diaz to open the Houston ninth and walked pinch-hitter Jon Singleton at the bottom of the lineup. The 5-foot-6 Altuve, playing in his 101st postseason game for Houston, then pulled an 0-1 changeup over the left-field fence, just beyond the glove of a leaping Evan Carter.

“Emotions are high in the postseason. You’ve got two of the best teams in the world competing against each other. Everybody’s trying to win. I feel like that’s just him,” said Alex Bregman, who also homered for the Astros. “He has a slow heartbeat. He’s calm under pressure. He’s confident in his ability. He always is just focused.”

The visiting team has won every game in the first postseason matchup between the Lone Star State rivals after the Astros won three in a row in Arlington. Game 6 in the best-of-seven series is Sunday night in Houston.

“We’ve done it so many times. We never give up until the last out,” Altuve said.

García connected off three-time Cy Young Award winner Justin Verlander, who took a 2-1 lead into the bottom of the sixth before Corey Seager doubled, Carter singled and García homered in a span of three pitches to make it 4-2.

Nathaniel Lowe also went deep for the wild-card Rangers, tying it 1-all in the fifth.

Ryan Pressly pitched two scoreless innings for the win after replacing Abreu following his ejection. Pressly gave up consecutive singles to start the bottom of the ninth before retiring the top three batters in Texas’ lineup. Marcus Semien lined out to shortstop, Seager flied out to deep center and Carter struck out to end it.

Houston is in its seventh straight ALCS and is trying to get to its fifth World Series during that span.

The AL West champion Astros are 40-45 this year at Minute Maid Park, including 1-3 in the postseason. But they are 5-0 on the road and have won 19 of their past 22 games away from home overall.

Houston went 9-1 at Globe Life Field this season, winning its last eight while outscoring Texas 79-36.

García, the Cuban slugger known as El Bombi, took a couple of slow steps out of the batter’s box after connecting off Verlander and was about halfway down the baseline when the ball landed in the first row of seats a few feet beyond the left-center wall. It was his fourth homer this postseason.

That go-ahead shot in the 42nd inning of this series was the first time the home team took the lead at any point through the first five games.

Houston took a 2-1 lead in the sixth when José Abreu reached out to hit a 79 mph curveball from starter Jordan Montgomery and the sharply hit ball took a tough hop off Seager at shortstop for an RBI single.

Josh Sborz entered with the bases loaded and one out but prevented further damage with the help of a diving play by Semien at second base.

Verlander retired 13 of his first 15 batters in his 21st postseason start for Houston until Lowe went the opposite way for a 380-foot homer to left field. The 40-year-old right-hander allowed four runs and six hits over 5 2/3 innings.


A day after the retractable roof at Globe Life Park was open during a game for the first time since May 21, it was closed again on a sunny afternoon. The temperature outside at first pitch was 91 degrees. It was 74 inside.


All-Star pitchers Nathan Eovaldi and Framber Valdez will start Game 6, the same matchup as Game 2 when the Rangers won 5-4. Eovaldi struck out nine and allowed three runs in six innings to win Monday. Valdez had six strikeouts in 2 2/3 innings, but allowed five runs (four earned).