ARLINGTON, Texas — This time, there was no throbbing bass, no celebratory shouting, no feeling of invincible momentum percolating all around the room. After the Texas Rangers lost Game 3 of the American League Championship Series, after their seven-game winning streak reached its end, the team’s clubhouse was mostly silent.
No music played. The voices of college football analysts were audible from televisions in the center of the room. Adolis García scrolled on his phone and a host of relief pitchers sat in front of their lockers. A horde of reporters scurried to crowd around Max Scherzer, who calmly and cooly told them, “You don’t have to run.” While the cameras focused on Scherzer, many other Rangers players got dressed and exited quietly.
The sense inside this room was not exactly one of defeat or dejection. It felt more like the conclusion of a business meeting, employees filing out of a conference room knowing there is work to be done.
“It’s not the first time we’ve lost this year,” catcher Jonah Heim said, asked whether losing came with a weird feeling.
Still, Wednesday night’s 8-5 loss to the Houston Astros puts these Rangers in a position they have yet to be in this postseason. It was before Game 1 of the Wild Card Series when first baseman Nathaniel Lowe sat down on a dais and said, “We’ve kind of accepted that we’re the Rangers, and we’ve got to do it the hard way.” Turns out the Rangers went on to do things the easy way through their first seven postseason contests. Only the 2014 Kansas City Royals had opened a postseason with a longer winning streak. The Rangers hit well and pitched well and the bullpen held together. Wednesday the story was different. Now fears of how the Rangers’ pitching depth will hold over a seven-game series suddenly loom large once again.
“It’s something we’ve done pretty much all year,” third baseman Josh Jung said of rebounding from defeat. “We’ve had some ups. We’ve had some downs. We are where we are because of our resiliency. That’s a fact.”
Scherzer, the 39-year-old future Hall of Famer, started Wednesday at Globe Life Field. But he showed the rust of more than a month on the injured list. Jung, the rookie third baseman who had been snubbed from the list of Gold Glove finalists earlier in the day, clubbed two home runs to keep his team’s pulse beating into the late innings. Leody Taveras made a catch for the ages, robbing Yordan Alvarez of a home run. But the highlights Wednesday mostly felt muted. Jung accounted for four of the Rangers’ five runs while Astros starter Cristian Javier buried the rest of the lineup with fastballs. Texas burned through six pitchers.
LEODY TAVERAS! 😱 pic.twitter.com/aQgIeGEFqO
— Texas Rangers (@Rangers) October 19, 2023
“Javier threw a heck of a game tonight,” Jung said. “You’re not gonna go out there and score seven runs every game. That was probably our first little scuffle there, and that’s just baseball.”
The Rangers, though, enter Game 4 with uncertainty afoot. When Astros manager Dusty Baker sat down for his postgame news conference, the Rangers had yet to name a starting pitcher for Thursday.
“Have they announced a starter for Game 4?” Baker said when a reporter asked for his pitching plan.
“They have not that I’m aware of,” the reporter answered.
“I have one,” Baker said, “but I’d like to know who theirs is.”
Such is postseason gamesmanship. Shortly after the media period Wednesday, the Rangers announced left-hander Andrew Heaney as their probable Game 4 starter. Heaney had a 2.75 ERA in 19 2/3 innings against the Astros in the regular season but has not pitched into the sixth inning since Aug. 1. There is a chance the Rangers could spell him with Dane Dunning as they did in the ALDS against the Baltimore Orioles. Dunning, though, surrendered nine earned runs in two appearances (seven innings total) against Houston this season.
The Astros also announced they will start right-hander José Urquidy, who had a 5.29 ERA in the regular season but went 5 2/3 innings and was the winning pitcher in the Astros’ ALDS Game 4 victory against the Minnesota Twins. If Thursday turns into a battle of the bullpens, the facts are hard to ignore. The Astros ranked seventh in MLB with a 3.56 bullpen ERA during the regular season. The Rangers ranked 24th at 4.77.
Had the Rangers won Game 3, they would have an almost insurmountable series edge, with Jordan Montgomery and Nathan Eovaldi available for potential clinching games. Instead, the Rangers enter Game 4 in dangerous territory. If the pitching plan goes awry, it could be a 2-2 series. The Rangers would likely face Justin Verlander before heading back to Houston.
Houston, too, has won six consecutive games at Globe Life Field and has beaten the Rangers in Arlington seven of eight times this year.
The Rangers still hold a 2-1 series lead thanks to their two victories at Minute Maid Park. But Thursday, they will need Heaney and the rest of their staff to deliver in a way Scherzer could not.
“Going into Houston, taking those two games, you switch home-field advantage,” Jung said. “You know they’re going to punch you back at some point. They’re a really good team. They’re the defending champs. You know it’s gonna happen. Now it’s our turn to flip the script.”
(Photo of Adolis García: Stacy Revere / Getty Images)