The Texas Rangers did something to their rival Houston Astros, that had only been done to them six times all season long. They shut them out. Bruce Bochy made all the right moves at the right times, and Jordan Montgomery and his bullpen friends kept the Astros completely off the scoreboard, and thus took Game 1 of the ALCS by a score of 2 to 0.
Montgomery was absolutely amazing and kept the Astros hitters guessing all night. He was hitting his spots and was in command of all of his pitches. There were a few intense moments in both the third and the fourth innings, that he was able to work his way out of.
In the bottom of the third inning with the Rangers clinging to a 1 to 0 lead, Montgomery saw Yordan Alvarez stroll to the plate with two on and two out. Alvarez is one of the most feared hitters in the game, and this early moment felt huge. Montgomery would rise to the occasion, and not only get Alvarez out, but strike him out to end the threat.
The fourth inning included even more traffic for the Astros, as they would end up with the bases loaded. After recording the first two outs of the inning, Montgomery would allow three straight singles to load up the bases. Rangers' fans had to be glad that it was Martin Maldonado coming to the plate in this situation. Even so, they also are aware that he has had some big hits against the Rangers. However, this would not be one of those times, as Montgomery struck him out to get out of yet another jam.
This is where Bochy really started to pull all of the right levers with the pitching staff. Even though Montgomery had a low pitch count at this point, he had just gotten out of back-to-back jams that could have gone sideways quickly. Instead of pulling Montgomery for one of the teams many long relief guys, he decided to continue to ride his big lefty for a few more innings. There was some action in the bullpen during this time, just in case it was needed, but Bochy wasn't quite ready to go there just yet.
Montgomery would pay off his manger's choice to leave him in for the fifth, by retiring the top of the Astros lineup in order. He followed that up with retiring the four, five, and six hitters in the lineup in order in the sixth inning. Bochy would let Montgomery come back out to start the seventh inning but would have a quick hook. Montgomery would get Mauricio Dubon to lineout to center, but Bochy had seen enough. Montgomery was only at 90 pitches, but Dubon had barreled up a shot that would have been gone if it hadn't been just foul. And even though he did get out, it was a loud shot that happened to be right at Leody Taveras in center.
Conventional wisdom would have been to leave Montgomery in until he allowed someone to reach base. He was still inside his pitch limit and had retired the previous eight Astros in order. But Bochy has his own book of experience that he can lean on. He didn't want reliever Josh Sborz to come into that big game with traffic and decided to bring him on in to face back-to-back right-handed hitters. If Bochy would have waited until someone was on to bring in Sborz (barring a double play), it would have meant facing Altuve with runners on base. It was a genius move by Bochy and Sborz paid off the decision by getting the final two outs of the inning on just seven pitches.
Sborz would return for the eighth inning, but it was short lived as he walked Jose Altuve to start the inning. That's when things got a bit crazy. Bochy summoned Aroldis Chapman from the pen to face Alex Bregman who hit, what looked like off the bat was going to be a game tying home run. Instead, it turned into the key play of the game and in fact a double play. Evan Carter made a fantastic catch, and after a review it was ruled that Altuve failed to retouch second base when retreating back to first. Alvarez grounded out weakly to Nathaniel Lowe at first base, and the game headed to the ninth.
Jose Leclerc came into the ninth inning and did what he has been doing for the last part of the regular season and all throughout the playoffs. He locked down the win and recorded three straight outs. Bochy's handling of the pitchers and the bullpen in Game 1 of the ALCS is just part of the story. It really goes back to how he has handled, encouraged, and trusted the guys even when they were struggling. Without going through the rough spots of the season, and how Bochy handled each of the guys, they might not be able to perform to the level that they are now. It was trial by fire, and there was plenty of fire during the season.
The Rangers pitching staff and defense shutout a very good Astros team. In fact, a team that scored 93 runs against them in their 13 regular season games. The thing is, those regular season games don't matter at this point, and the Rangers weren't the least bit scared or intimidated playing their rival on the biggest of stages.
With a 3:37 CT start time for today's game, it will be a quick turnaround, which isn't all bad. Rinse and repeat and get after the Astros today. Nathan Eovaldi will be on the mound for the Rangers and there is little doubt that Bochy will have the team ready for another challenging game when they step onto the field today.
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