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Altuve and Javier lead Astros to 8-5 win at Rangers as Houston closes to 2-1 in ALCS

Houston Astros starting pitcher Cristian Javier walks toward the dugout after throwing against the Texas Rangers during the first inning in Game 3 of the baseball American League Championship Series Wednesday, Oct. 18, 2023, in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

Houston Astros starting pitcher Cristian Javier walks toward the dugout after throwing against the Texas Rangers during the first inning in Game 3 of the baseball American League Championship Series Wednesday, Oct. 18, 2023, in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

BY STEPHEN HAWKINS contributing

ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) — Cristian Javier knew right away his fastball was working in Game 3 of the AL Championship Series. Then again, it’s October, when he always seems to be at his best for the Houston Astros.

“There’s not a better feeling than knowing that your teammates instill their confidence in you,” Javier said through his translator. “They expect good things in you and put their trust in you.”

The 26-year-old Dominican right-hander known as “El Reptil” delivered again, working into the sixth inning of another solid postseason start, and the Astros beat the Texas Rangers 8-5 on Wednesday night to close to 2-1 in the best-of-seven series.

“He was good. He was very good,” Astros manager Dusty Baker said.

OTHER NEWS

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Javier held Texas to two runs and three hits over 5 2/3 innings. He threw 51 of 85 pitches for strikes and walked only one batter.

“These moments are extremely special for me,” said Javier, who won for the second time these playoffs, and is 4-0 in his four career postseason starts while allowing only five total hits.

Texas lost for the first time this postseason after a 7-0 start. Three-time Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer was gone after four innings in his first outing in more than a month after recovering from a strained shoulder muscle.

Javier set a franchise record for the defending champion Astros by extending his postseason scoreless streak to 20 1/3 innings until the fifth, when rookie All-Star starting third baseman Josh Jung hit the first of his pair of two-run homers.

“He’s got that fastball, his rises a little bit, and hitters have a tough time,” Rangers manager Bruce Bochy said. “He’s been throwing well in the postseason. We knew that coming in, we had our hands full.”

After going 7-1 in his first 14 starts this year, Javier had a 7.27 ERA over a 13-game stretch. He went more than a month without a win before six scoreless innings in the regular-season finale Oct. 1 at Arizona, an 8-1 victory that clinched the AL West title.

Ryan Pressly, the third reliever, worked the ninth and induced Jung’s game-ending, double-play grounder for his third save this postseason.

Jose Altuve homered while Martín Maldonado, the catcher wearing reptile-skin spikes as a nod to his pitcher’s nickname, and Yordan Alvarez both had two-run singles for the Astros. They scored five runs with two outs.

Jung hit his second two-run homer in the seventh for the wild-card Rangers, who played only their second home game this postseason. They swept Tampa Bay and Baltimore — the AL’s top two teams in the regular season — to get to their first ALCS since 2011 and their first postseason series against their instate division rival.

Game 4 is Thursday night, when José Urquidy pitches for Houston and Andrew Heaney starts for the Rangers. Game 5 will be Friday afternoon.

The Astros are 40-45 at home this year, losing three of four in the playoffs. But they have won 17 of their last 20 road games, including both at Minnesota in the AL Division Series and three during a record-setting sweep at Globe Life Field in early September, when they homered 16 times and outscored Texas 39-10.

“It’s the strangest thing I’ve ever seen because usually you want to be .500 on the road and way over .500 at home,” Baker said. “I asked the team in spring training to be the best road team. Maybe I should have asked them to be the best road and home team. They usually give me what I ask for.”

The Rangers had trailed after only one of the previous 64 innings this postseason until a three-run second that put Houston ahead to stay.

Alvarez was hit by a 89 mph cutter on his left foot to start that frame, struggling Kyle Tucker walked and Mauricio Dubón loaded the bases with a single. Alvarez came home as Scherzer bounced a wild pitch off Jonah Heim’s mitt and Maldonado, the No. 9 batter, followed with his big hit

Altuve, who went deep five times in that September series, homered leading off the third. José Abreu doubled on the first pitch in the fourth and made it 5-0 when he scored on a single by Dubón, who had three hits.

The 39-year-old Scherzer, a trade-deadline acquisition from the Mets, gave up five runs and five hits in taking the loss.

Scherzer was dealing with forearm tightness six weeks ago when he allowed seven runs — all on three homers — over three innings in the Astros’ 12-3 win that wrapped up that September series. He threw 5 1/3 scoreless innings six days later, on Sept. 12 at Toronto, before going on the injured list because of the shoulder strain.

The last batter Javier faced was rookie Evan Carter, whose hard two-out liner to right sailed over Tucker’s head to the wall after being misplayed into a double by the Gold Glove finalist. Hector Neris then replaced Javier, and the inning ended with a defensive gem.

Left-fielder Michael Brantley, a 36-year-old five-time All-Star who returned in August after missing 14 months with a shoulder injury, sprinted more than 80 feet to make a diving catch in the gap and take an extra-base hit away from Adolis García.

That still might not have been the best defensive play of the night.

Alvarez got robbed of what would have been his seventh homer this postseason on a 416-foot drive to straightaway center leading off the sixth. Leody Taveras made a leaping catch with his arm extended beyond the wall.

SHORT HOPS

Javier’s 20 1/3 innings passed Joe Niekro’s 18 innings for the longest scoreless streak in Astros history, for starters or relievers. It is the second-longest MLB scoreless streak for a starter in his first postseason starts, behind Christy Mathewson’s 28 innings from 1905-11. … Scherzer became the second pitcher to start for five teams in the postseason following appearances for Detroit, Washington, the Los Angeles Dodgers and the New York Mets. David Wells started for Cincinnati, Baltimore, the Yankees, Boston and San Diego from 1989-2006.

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