HOUSTON (AP) — The Houston Astros return home a win from their third straight trip to the World Series.
It won’t be easy, though, considering their lackluster home record and a Texas Rangers team that will send Nathan Eovaldi to the mound Sunday night in Game 6 of the AL Championship Series.
Eovaldi who is from Alvin, the Houston suburb where Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan also grew up, is 3-0 in the postseason and got the win in Game 2 of this series after also pitching Texas to victories in the Wild Card Series and Division Series. The 33-year-old right-hander is 7-3 with a 2.87 ERA in 14 games with nine starts in his postseason career.
“His resumé shows that he pitches well in important games, so it’s going to be a great matchup,” Texas manager Bruce Bochy said.
Eovaldi is eager to face a Houston team that scored 23 runs combined in the last three games after managing just four in the two Texas wins.
“I enjoy facing the hottest teams,” he said. “I fully believe that pitching wins championships. We’re able to put teams in a funk, go out there and set the tone early.”
The Astros went 39-42 in Houston during the regular season and their home woes have continued this postseason, where they are 1-3. They swept three games in Arlington to take a 3-2 series lead, rebounding from their poor performances at Minute Maid.
Houston manager Dusty Baker has long grown tired of questions about why his team is better on the road. As the most important home game of the year for the Astros approached, Baker was again forced to address it and asked whether he planned to address his team about it.
“What can I say? If I had the magic words, I would have said them like two months ago,” Baker explained Saturday. “We’ve just got to get it done. There are no words that can describe what we have to do. Simply action.”
Jose Altuve hit a three-run homer in the ninth inning Friday night to give the Astros a 5-4 win in a wild Game 5, which included a benches-clearing scuffle in the eighth inning. It began after Bryan Abreu hit Texas slugger Adolis García on the left arm with a 98.9 mph fastball. García, who punctuated a go-ahead homer in the sixth with an empathic bat spike and a slow trot, immediately turned around and got in the face of catcher Martín Maldonado, causing players from both teams to spill onto the field.
García, Abreu and Baker were all ejected. Both managers were asked if they thought emotions from that altercation would spill over into Game 6.
Baker seemed to go back-and-forth on the issue.
“Yeah, probably,” he said.
When pressed as to how he thought it would carry over, Baker continued.
“Man, I don’t know,” he said. “I don’t have no crystal ball. You don’t script that. It just happens.”
Bochy said: “I don’t see really any of this happening again, to be honest.”
While Eovaldi has been great for the Rangers this postseason, Houston starter Framber Valdez has struggled. The left-hander, who threw a no-hitter against Cleveland in August, is 0-2 with an 11.57 ERA in two playoff starts this season.
He allowed five runs and seven hits without getting out of the third inning in Game 2. The Rangers jumped on him for four runs in the first inning and he seemed to get rattled, committing two errors on one play that helped them build the lead.
Baker wassn’t worried about Valdez’s confidence or him getting too emotional on the mound.
“Framber has pitched big games before. I think we’re making a lot of Framber’s emotions. And the last couple of games it wasn’t as much his emotions as his location — he wasn’t sharp… we talk about emotions, but you’ve got to throw strikes and quality strikes and quality location and if he does that emotions never come into play.”
Valdez, 2-0 with a 1.46 ERA in last year’s World Series, is thankful to get the chance to redeem himself and try to pitch Houston to another World Series berth after a tough start to this postseason.
“It feels good, and I thank Dusty and I thank my teammates that I’m (starting) despite the two bad outings that I had before this,” he said through a translator. “It can happen to anyone, but it feels good that I do have the opportunity to be able to go out there to show that I can do what I’ve been doing and hopefully with God and hard work (we) should be able to get there.”
The Astros wore their orange jerseys for all three wins in Arlington after losing in their white jerseys in the opener and in navy in Game 2. Valdez is a fan of the navy but was asked if he might ask to wear the orange ones again after their success in the color this week.
“It doesn’t matter to me what jersey we use, whether it’s the navy, the white, the orange,” he said. “Just go out there and compete. “
Rangers second baseman Marcus Semien said its important for Texas not to get down after Friday’s difficult loss if the team hopes to force a Game 7. The Rangers opened the postseason with seven straight wins.
“We have to understand that we had the game under control yesterday until one swing happened,” he said. “So how can we figure out how to continue to control the ball game and figure out how to finish.”
AP Baseball Writer Stephen Hawkins contributed to this report.
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