HOUSTON (AP) — Jordan Montgomery outdueled Justin Verlander and the Texas Rangers received a big boost from their youngest player to open the AL Championship Series with a 2-0 win over the Houston Astros on Sunday night.
Montgomery pitched five-hit ball over 6 1/3 innings, Leody Taveras provided a two-run lead with his solo homer in the fifth and the Rangers remained perfect in the postseason at 6-0.
Evan Carter, a rookie who just turned 21 on Aug. 29, doubled and scored in the second and made two nifty defensive plays in left field. He’s shined this postseason after not making his major league debut until Sept. 8.
“He just has so much confidence,” Texas manager Bruce Bochy said. “He’s got the youthful enthusiasm and he’s just excited to be here. He’s not in awe of anything, just no fear in this kid since he’s come up.”
In the ALCS for the first time since back-to-back appearances in 2010-11, the Rangers swept the Rays in the Wild Card Series and the Orioles in the Division Series. The winning streak followed loses in their previous six playoff games against Toronto in the ALDS in 2015 and 2016.
“We just found a way to get a couple of runs across the board,” Bochy said. “That was the difference in the game, obviously. But our guy was really good, Monty, terrific job he did. And he got in a couple of jams there and found a way to get out of it.”
Game 2 of the best-of-seven series is Monday in Houston.
The defending champion Astros, in the ALCS for a seventh straight year, had a tough time getting anything going against Montgomery. The top four batters in Houston’s lineup were 2 for 12 with five strikeouts against the left-hander. Slugger Yordan Alvarez struck out against him three times.
“Overall, just didn’t do enough tonight, offensively,” Houston third baseman Alex Bregman said. “I thought J.V. threw the ball tremendously, but we need to string together some better at-bats.”
Houston’s offensive woes came after it hit 16 homers and outscored the Rangers 39-10 in a three-game sweep in September. Things were much different in the first postseason meeting between these in-state rivals as they managed just five singles.
“Sometime you’ve got to say: ‘Hey, the guy threw a great game tonight against us, excellent game,’” manager Dusty Baker said. “And they say good pitching beats good hitting, but when you don’t hit, everybody wants to know what’s wrong. There’s not a whole bunch to say. He threw a real good game against us.”
Montgomery has been great in the last month, allowing just two earned runs over 27 innings in his last four starts of regular season, and posting a 2.08 ERA in three postseason starts.
Verlander allowed two runs and six hits in 6 2/3 innings to mark the first time this postseason where both starters pitched into the seventh. It was the 36th postseason start for Verlander and the MLB-record 14th time he’s started a playoff series opener.
The three-time Cy Young Award winner threw 47 fastballs, getting 27 swings without a single swing and miss.
Verlander said the defending champs aren’t concerned after falling into an early hole in the series.
“We lost Game 1 in the World Series last year,” he said. “We’ve lost Game 1 of some playoff series before. And that’s the great thing about this team. Obviously nobody is sitting in the locker room right now happy. But it’s very matter of fact, okay. We just got punched, how do you answer?”
Alvarez stranded two in the third with an inning ending strikeout and Martín Maldonado left the bases loaded when he struck out in the fourth.
Josh Sborz walked Jose Altuve starting the eighth and was replaced by Aroldis Chapman. The Rangers turned a double play when Carter made a great grab on the track on a ball hit by Bregman and Altuve was called out for not retouching second base when he retreated to first after Carter’s catch.
Altuve initially called safe, but the Rangers challenged the ruling and it was overturned in a video review. Alvarez following with an inning-ending groundout.
Carter had robbed Bregman of a hit with one out in the first. He sprinted before leaping to make the catch and crashing into the scoreboard wall in left field and knocking out one of squares.
“Oh, my gosh. This is so much fun,” Carter said. “That’s just all I think about. Where else would I want to be. This is awesome. I’m just trying to keep my feet grounded and just keep rolling with this team . It’s been a lot of fun.”
Jose Leclerc struck out one in a perfect ninth for the save and the Rangers’ second shutout of the playoff. Texas’ bullpen has a 1.86 ERA in the playoffs after ranking 24th at 4.77 during the regular season.
Carter got things going for Texas with a hustle double on a grounder with one out in the second before scoring on a single by Jonah Heim. John Jung singled with two outs, Taveras walked to load the bases and Verlander limited the damage by retiring Marcus Semien on a fly ball.
Verlander had retired eight in a row when Taveras drove a hanging slider 398 feet into the seats in right field with one out in the fifth.
“Every one of their guys has the opportunity to beat you,” Verlander said. “You’ve got to be on your game one through nine. And if you’re not, they’ll make you pay.”
Houston LHP Framber Valdez (0-1, 10.38 ERA) opposes RHP Nathan Eovaldi (2-0, 1.32) in Game 2. Eovaldi grew up in suburban Houston and attended Alvin High School, which is also the alma mater of Hall of Fame pitcher Nolan Ryan.
“It’s awesome,” Eovaldi said. “I’m going to have a lot of friends and family here for the game. Anytime we’re in this stage in this moment right here, being this close to the World Series, it’s a big deal. Doesn’t matter where we’re playing at, it’s a big honor for us to be here.”
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