ALCS Game 5: Drill, Brawl, and Another Drill

With one dazzler of an American League Championship Series Game 5 play, Rangers second baseman Marcus Semien may have thought he'd saved their season. With one swing an inning later, Adolis García may have thought he'd guaranteed that save.

But that swing provoked a foolhardy act by an Astros reliever costing the team said reliever plus manager Dusty Baker for the rest of the game. And thus provoked, José Altuve sent the Rangers' season onto life support with one swing in the top of the ninth, leading to a 5-4 Astros win.

The Astros did their level best to continue proving to the Rangers that they were the unmovable force on the road, which they were all season long. The Rangers did their level best to say, "not so fast," on Friday afternoon. At least, until García inadvertently poked the Houston bear.

There was nothing wrong with García celebrating the moment he unloaded on Astro starter Justin Verlander with Corey Seager (one-out double, then to third on Sean Carter's single) aboard in the bottom of the sixth, sending a first-pitch fastball over the left center field fence. There was everything wrong with Astro reliever Bryan Abreu drilling García on the first pitch in the eighth.

Abreu was ejected while both benches emptied. Astros manager Dusty Baker argued so vociferously with the umpires that he was ejected post haste. When order was restored, Astros finisher Ryan Pressly had to slither out of the first-and-second jam and did it with a force out and two strikeouts to follow.

Then, Pressly had to slither out of a jam of his own making, surrendering back-to-back singles to Mitch Garver and Josiah Heim, before a line out, a fly out, and a swinging strikeout banked a game the Astros could have lost almost as readily as they won it.

In between those jams, Altuve batted with two on (Yainer Díaz, leadoff single; pinch hitter Jon Singleton, wal), nobody out, and José Leclerc on the mound for the Rangers after relieving Aroldis Chapman to retire the side in the eighth. The delay may or may not have affected Leclerc. Altuve reached down for a down-and-in 0-1 pitch and sent it up and out, over the left field fence.

No one can really prove Abreu's intent. Watch a replay of the pitch. Astros catcher Martín Maldonado is set for a pitch coming low under the middle of the zone. The pitch shot up and in and off García's left tricep. García got right into Maldonado's grille as if thinking Maldonado might have called for a duster, but set up to make it look unintentional.

Six umpires called drilling García deliberate. If Abreu really wanted to drill him, he might have disguised it better (say, throwing the duster on the second or third pitch, assuming there would be one) instead of letting him have it on the first pitch. Abreu probably knows well enough to know that you should worry more about getting the man out than sending him messages about previous over-exuberance — especially when you weren't the one at whose expense he was over-exuberant.

García isn't exactly a green rookie. It took him long enough to make the Show to stay as it is. Had he just taken his base, he might have kept the Rangers in the game instead of triggering a bench-clearing brawl that ended up possibly harming Leclerc with the extra down-time.

"Everybody on their side is going to say it wasn't [intentional]," said Rangers second baseman Marcus Semien. "Everybody on this side is going to say it was."

"I was saying, 'My bad, it wasn't on purpose'," Abreu said postgame. "He was like, 'bullsh@t'."

"We know it's the playoffs," said umpiring crew chief James Hoye. "We don't want to make a mistake in a situation like that. So we're going to make sure that everybody is on the same page, that we all felt the same way. And to a T, all of us felt like that pitch was intentional."

It's not impossible, too, that the umpires acted more upon the moment's emotions when ejecting Abreu for the pitch, García for launching the scrum, and Baker for arguing as wildly as he did over Abreu's ejection. Abreu did end up hit with a two-game suspension. He could wait until before Game 6 to appeal, which would keep him available for 6 and Game 7 if it goes that far, though it might keep him out of the World Series's beginning if the Astros get there.

García probably escaped suspension because he was drilled and furious, but it would not have been out of line for baseball's government to suspend him, either, for launching the brawl in the first place instead of just taking his base. Especially since his immediate target was Maldonado, not Abreu.

"My plan for [García]," Abreu said postgame, "was just to try to get the ball up and in. That's my plan with him — up and in, and slider down and away. I just missed the pitch and he just overreacted."

"I think the optics of the situation are really bad," said Rangers first baseman Nathaniel Lowe. "It's the playoffs. You're allowed to get excited. He got excited. He celebrated because that was a huge swing for us. To have to wear 98 [mph] on the arm after something like that, it's pretty disappointing."

Altuve's ninth-inning nuke made the optics a little bit worse for the Rangers now. The ALCS moves back to Houston. Granted the Astros weren't a great road team this season, granted the Rangers took it to them in the first two games in Houston this set, but the Astros are not exactly pushovers. Especially not with someone like Mighty Mouse able to hit bombs when the eleventh hour is about to toll.

But it doesn't keep Baker from a few trepidations over whether the García drill might linger in the minds of both teams if things get testy in Game 6, which is scheduled to pit Framber Valdez starting for the Astros against Nathan Eovaldi for the Rangers.

"I don't have a crystal ball," he said Saturday during a workout in Houston. "I mean, it's going to be what it's going to be. You have to wait and see, just like me. We don't script it; it just happens." That's just about the last thing either team needs right now.

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