Astros Get One Back, Foil Mad Max’s Return in 8–5 Game 3 Win

Yordan Alvarez Jose Altuve
Andrew Dieb-USA TODAY Sports

Max Scherzer hadn’t pitched in 36 days, but when a future Hall of Famer says he can go, it’s hard to say no. That’s the spot that the Rangers found themselves in, and up two games to none in the ALCS, they could afford a clunker if they had to. Unfortunately, that’s what they got. Scherzer surrendered five runs over four innings; Cristian Javier no-hit Texas into the fifth. Though Houston’s hurler didn’t remain unblemished, the Rangers couldn’t overcome their early deficit, and the Astros narrowed Texas’ series lead with an 8–5 win.

The first inning went innocently enough, though Scherzer allowed a pair of well-struck fly balls that hinted at the trouble to come. Ahead 0–2 on Yordan Alvarez to begin the second, the veteran went with a back-foot cutter that, well, hit Alvarez in the back foot. After punching out José Abreu, Scherzer walked Kyle Tucker on five pitches, then yielded a 104.8 mph frozen rope to Mauricio Dubón on a slider that hung up. Jeremy Peña popped out, and for a second, Scherzer seemed to be close to getting out of a bases-loaded jam. Instead, he spiked an 0–1 slider to no. 9 hitter Martín Maldonado, he of the 66 regular-season wRC+, to bring home Alvarez. On the very next pitch, Maldonado ripped a 101.1 mph single past third baseman Josh Jung, driving in two more:

The inning only ended because Maldonado tried to stretch that single into a double, but Jose Altuve put the pressure right back on Scherzer to begin the third with his first hit of the ALCS, a homer to left-center on a middle-high 1–2 fastball:

The Astros didn’t let up; all three of their balls in play in the fourth were hit over 100 mph, headlined by an Abreu double and a run-scoring Dubón single that put Houston up 5–0. Scherzer got out of the inning thanks to a pair of strikeouts, his third and fourth on the night, but they would be his last. As anticipated, he didn’t pitch deep into the game, but he was lifted due to ineffectiveness just as much as he was for injury or workload precautions.

The Rangers, meanwhile, finally notched their first hit in the bottom of the fifth: a Nathaniel Lowe liner just past Alex Bregman’s outstretched glove with two outs. But when it rains it pours, or at least rains a little harder; the next hitter, Jung, sent a Javier slider deep to right-center for a homer and the Rangers’ first runs since the third inning of Game 2:

Alvarez led off the top of the sixth and immediately tried to get one of those runs back, belting a Cody Bradford slider deep to center field. But Leody Taveras had something to say about that, leaping above the wall to pull back what would have been the slugger’s seventh home run in seven playoff games this year:

Houston had a webgem of its own. Tucker misplayed an Evan Carter 109.2 mph rocket hit right at him to put the rookie left fielder on second base with two outs and end Javier’s night. On in relief, Hector Neris immediately gave up a shot of his own, an Adolis García drive to deep left-center. That’s when the 36-year-old Michael Brantley sprinted over and risked his surgically-repaired shoulder to make a tumbling grab:

That officially wrapped up Javier’s line at 5.2 innings with two runs. He struck out just three but notched 11 whiffs. Seven of those came on the good, hard fastball (up about a tick from his season average) that had eluded him at times during an up-and-down regular season. Ideally, that heater would pair with a whiffy slider, but as has been the case for Javier much of the year, he didn’t have a feel for both of his primary offerings on the same night.

The clubs traded two-spots over the next inning. The Astros piled up a trio of singles and a walk against Chris Stratton (making his postseason debut) and Will Smith, with the big blow a flare from Alvarez that will make you say “That’s baseball, Suzyn”:

In the bottom half of the inning, Lowe and Jung collaborated for another single-homer combo, with the latter’s second dinger of the game flying out to straight-away center field off of Neris:

To start the eighth, Texas brought in Jon Gray, another starter coming off of a long injury layoff. He gave one of those runs back to the Astros, though he was at least up a tick and a half on his heater, and three notches up on his slider. If the rust wears off, he could serve a role as a bullpen piece for the rest of the postseason.

The Rangers put together a brief rally in the bottom half, becoming the first team to score off of Bryan Abreu since July 15 when Marcus Semien walking and coming around to score after a groundout and a García single. If only Abreu were the only elite reliever that they had to contend with. Facing Ryan Pressly in the ninth, Texas went quietly, sealing the Astros’ win.

If the Rangers were looking for good news amid the loss, while Houston used both Abreu and Pressly, Texas managed to save both of its top relievers in José Leclerc and Aroldis Chapman. With rested relievers and starts from each of Jordan Montgomery and Nathan Eovaldi on the horizon, the odds are still in the Rangers’ favor — 63.9%, per ZiPS. Then again, Houston cut those chances by 15 points with a Game 3 win. A pivotal Game 4 awaits.

Alex is a FanGraphs contributor. His work has also appeared at Pinstripe Alley, Pitcher List, and Sports Info Solutions. He is especially interested in how and why players make decisions, something he struggles with in daily life. You can find him on Twitter @Mind_OverBatter.

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7 months ago

Yordan Alvarez is incredible.

7 months ago
Reply to  kmoser

Amazingly, this game brought down his postseason wRC+. He is now “only” on pace for 120 homers over 600 PAs, when previously he was at 144.

7 months ago
Reply to  sadtrombone

He can pick it back up. He’s quite a good hitter

7 months ago
Reply to  sadtrombone

That’s insane. One of the plays that brought it down was technically a home run if not for a great defensive play haha.

Original Greaser Bob
7 months ago
Reply to  kmoser

Hard to get pumped up for a DH. But he plays half of the game really good!

Last edited 7 months ago by Original Greaser Bob