ALCS Game 7: Seriously!

They may yet call the now-concluded American League Championship Series The Adolis García Show. And all it took was getting enraged over being hit by a Game 5 pitch to kick the usually exuberant Rangers right fielder into overdrive that went to warp speed in Game 6 then ludicrous speed in Game 7. Seriously?

There are plenty who say the two sweetest words in a baseball fan's vocabulary are "Game 7." They certainly were for the Rangers Monday night, blowing the Astros away from the ALCS, 11-4, taking all four games played in Houston while they were at it, and hoisting García as the ALCS Most Valuable Player while they were at it.

How do you possibly follow a dramatic late-Game 6 grand slam after spending the earlier parts of that game striking out four times? García made the answer too easy in Game 7: a first-inning RBI single for the second of three Ranger runs in the frame. A leadoff home run in the top of the third. A 2-run single in the top of a 4-run fifth. A 1-out homer in the top of the eighth.

And, more than a little egg on the face of Astros relief pitcher Bryan Abreu, who'd drilled García so noisily in Game 5, but came into Game 7 with the Astros already on life support. With one and all mindful that his two-game suspension wouldn't be served until next season, after all, Abreu drilled the Rangers' designated hitter Mitch Garver with one out in the top of the sixth, the out being (of all people) García popping out to Astros first baseman José Abreu.

One out later, Rangers first baseman Nathaniel Lowe hit a 2-run homer to make things 10-2. García's eighth-inning bomb might not have been absolutely necessary given the final outcome, but had to be as delicious an exclamation point to slam onto this set as anything else the Rangers might have found in making sure the Astros' chances to become repeat World Series winners disappeared.


The Astros hardly helped themselves in the end. Bedeviled by injuries during the season and, almost inexplicably, playing below .500 at home while being a road powerhouse, manager Dusty Baker had to juggle and struggle to keep them in the races as well as take advantage of the Rangers' September struggles to win the American League West by dint of having won the season series against the Rangers.

They knew the Rangers wouldn't be pushovers. They had to know the Rangers made themselves more formidable with the five-game winning streak by which they opened their postseason. They simply didn't bargain for how formidable the Rangers would prove in the ALCS, despite the Astros winning all three games of the Arlington leg of the set.

In those three, the Astros out-scored the Rangers, 23-12 in Globe Life Field. But in Minute Maid Park, the Rangers out-scored them, 27-10, including back-to-back blowouts in Games 6 and 7. Any Astro fans thinking the road-warrior nature of the set would turn after Astros second baseman José Altuve's dramatic 3-run homer in the top of the Game 5 ninth had that thinking yanked inside-out several times over.

The Astros only looked as though they seized the ALCS momentum there, and when DH Yordan Alvarez opened Game 6's scoring with an RBI single in the top of the second. But Garver answered with a solo homer in the bottom of that inning, Rangers catcher Jonah Heim parked a 2-run homer in the third, and — after another Houston run in the sixth — Garver whacked an RBI double in the eighth and García dropped his 3-run bomb in the ninth.

And that bomb turned out to be just a prelude to García's Game 7 destruction. On a night now-ancient Max Scherzer could have been had, but with only 3 runs to offer including veteran third baseman Alex Bregman's third-inning, one-out solo homer, the Astros were had, instead.

They got nothing off Jordan Montgomery, usually a Rangers starter but coming out of the bullpen on an all-hands-on-deck night for both sides, over two innings despite pushing to first and second in the fourth. They could pry only one run out of Aroldis Chapman with Alvarez's RBI single in the seventh; they could yank only one run out of Rangers finisher José Leclerc when Altuve hit Leclerc's first pitch of the ninth down the line and over the right field fence.

This time Altuve's 11th-hour demolition went to no avail.

The Rangers jumped all over Astros starter Cristian Javier after Marcus Semien opened with an infield ground out. Corey Seager batted next and fired the opening salvo with a drive over the right center field fence. A walk and a theft of second later, García sent one flying toward the left field wall and stood a moment or two admiring it before it clanged off the wall and he was held to a single.

Before anyone had a chance to roast him for the moment's admiration, García atoned for the extra base he didn't take on that hit by stealing second himself, enabling Garver to send him home. By the time the evening ended, almost nobody was liable to remember that that first-inning drive might have just missed being a homer.

"He was hot," Baker said postgame, "and he's been hot the whole series. We did strike him out quite a few times. But he got us. There's a whole bunch of stuff you can point to in that ballgame. And so we just got beat. Sometimes there's no rhyme or reason. Sometimes you lose and sometimes you get beat. There's a difference. We got beat."

This time, no Astro pitcher even thought of letting García have it with a pitch his next time up after that long single. If anything, Astroworld and elsewhere was more likely to question why Baker didn't elect to pitch around him the rest of the way. And, why Baker didn't get one of his higher-leverage relief arms, Hector Neris, up and ready before Rangers left fielder Evan Carter's two-run double started the Ranger runaway in the fourth.

First, they may have to finish questioning why he clung stubbornly to weak-hitting veteran catcher Martín Maldonado instead of reaching for better-hitting Yainer Díaz (whose season included 45 extra base hits) later in games.

They may also revisit questioning why owner Jim Crane and his front office pulled in no pitching depth last winter, letting Baker lean heavily on inconsistent Javier and Framber Valdez, and rookies Hunter Brown and J.P. France, while dealing with early-season injuries to Altuve and Alvarez. That's where Crane felt enough of a pistol to his head that he gave the go signal when future Hall of Famer Justin Verlander was made available for trading by the Mets who'd signed him as a free agent last winter.

The Rangers didn't make it easy for themselves to get here, starting September 1-6 and finishing it 2-4 to fall into a tie with the Astros after they were up in the AL West by as many as 6.5 games at one point in June. Keeping the proverbial eyes on the prize wasn't exactly simple after that.

"When you get the right group of guys with the right leader in the dugout," said general manager Chris Young, himself a former major league pitcher including for the Rangers his first two years, "you never underestimate a group's talent and the way they come together and the way they pull for each other. It's not always about the team with the most talent. It's the team with the right talent."

None more right, it turned out, than a guy on whom the Cardinals gave up and the Rangers almost did. García — who defected from Cuba on a flight layover in Paris following a not-so-successful stint in Japan — was signed by the Cardinals but designated for assignment by them. The Rangers signed him, designated him, but had to keep him when he found no takers.

Lucky they. García became a two-time all-star including this season. Then, the Rangers came to this postseason and he turned it into his coming-out party. Especially Games 6 and 7. Especially setting a new postseason record with 15 ALCS runs batted in, 13 of which came in the set's final four games.

But the Rangers and people around the team point to things that might have been obscured during his Game 5 explosion over getting drilled his next time up after a 3-run homer. They talk about his exuberance, yes, but they also use words and terms like "work ethic," "a good leader," and "empathy." They're not words just thrown around the way the Rangers threw the Astros around in the end.

"The ones who really dig in and lean in to the moment and enjoy it," said Michael Young, a longtime favourite as a Rangers player who now works in their front office, "are the ones who have the most success. These last two games, there is nobody who had more fun than Adolis did. He enjoyed every last pitch. And it was obvious."

The Rangers await whomever comes out on top between the Phillies and the Diamondbacks in National League Championship Series Game 7 Wednesday night in Philadelphia. The Astros go home to a few questions and few simple answers.

Their success in recent years, including six division titles in seven years, four pennants, and two World Series titles (the first of which will remain tainted forever, alas), may have spoiled them a little. Even to the point where they've started talking the way you expect out of the Yankees.

"Not a success," Maldonado said of the year as a whole. "Of course not. I think for us a success is winning the World Series."

"No," Bregman said. "I think winning the World Series is a success."

But now Baker has spoken of retiring at last. Altuve and Bregman enter the final season of their contracts. Veteran outfielder Michael Brantley — who missed most of the season recovering from shoulder surgery, then hit for a modest .653 OPS this postseason despite a home run helping the Astros nail their division series triumph — is thought to be considering retirement. There could be a few other changes coming.

Right now, the Rangers wouldn't change a bloody thing. And their manager, Bruce Bochy — who came out of retirement to take the bridge thinking a shot at the World Series was worth it, and who's now managed 13 postseason elimination games to wins, as well as five pennants, plus having three World Series rings managing the 2010s Giants — wouldn't change a thing.

"So much heart and determination," Bochy said of his Rangers as the champagne sprayed the clubhouse Tuesday night. Maybe none bigger than the outfielder who'd led the Rangers' blast furnace all the way to a World Series engagement.


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