Max Scherzer pitched Wednesday for the first time in more than a month. It did not go well.
The Rangers’ ace showed plenty of rust as the Houston Astros tagged him for five earned runs in an 8-5 win in Game 3 of the ALCS. After being swept in two games at home, the reigning champions closed their series deficit to 2-1, with Game 4 slated for Thursday in Arlington.
Houston Astros at Texas Rangers, ALCS Game 3: Astros 8, Rangers 5 (Texas leads 2-1)
Scherzer had been sidelined since Sept. 12 due to a strain in his pitching shoulder. He threw 68 pitches in a simulated game last week, giving manager Bruce Bochy confidence he was ready for ALCS action.
He looked good in the first inning, needing just eight pitches to retire the side. But the Astros scored three runs in the second, and then José Altuve hit a solo home run in the third to extend Houston’s lead to 4-0.
Scherzer made it through four innings, surrendering five earned runs on five hits and a walk. He struck out four with the single home run allowed to Altuve. It was a rough outing for the three-time Cy Young winner after nearly five weeks off.
The game wasn’t over at the point — far from it. After being held hitless by Cristian Javier for 4 2/3 innings, the Rangers broke through with two runs in the fifth on a two-run home run by Josh Jung. The runs were the first Javier had allowed in 20 1/3 postseason innings.
The defensive gem helped keep the Rangers in striking distance as both offenses did damage in the late innings. But the Astros matched the Rangers in the seventh (two runs each) and the eighth (one run each) to keep their lead intact and avoid falling into an 0-3 hole.
The Astros loaded the bases on Scherzer with one out in a scoreless second inning. Scherzer induced a pop-up from Jeremy Peña for the second out. But it was downhill from there.
With Martín Maldonado at the plate, Scherzer threw an 0-1 pitch in the dirt. It got away from catcher Jonah Heim, allowing Álvarez to score from third on the wild pitch. With the run, the Astros took their first lead of the series.
One pitch later, Maldonado smoked a Scherzer fastball into left field, scoring Mauricio Dubón and Kyle Tucker. Maldonado was then tagged out trying to stretch the hit into a double, but the damage was done. The Astros had a 3-0 lead that they’d never relinquish.
It was a strong team effort from the Astros, whose bats woke up on the road after scoring just four runs in Houston.
But the honors here go to Altuve, who ended a three-game hitless slump with his first home run since Game 1 of the ALDS against the Minnesota Twins.
Jose Altuve's first hit of the championship series was a BIG one 💥 pic.twitter.com/0wKs7ErRNx
— FOX Sports: MLB (@MLBONFOX) October 19, 2023
The fourth-inning shot piled on the rough start by Scherzer and helped keep Houston’s offense rolling. Altuve finished 2-of-5 at the plate with the home run, two RBI and a run scored.
Álvarez also had a strong night at the plate, going 2-for-4 with one run and two RBI. And Javier was strong in his start, picking up the win in 5 2/3 innings pitched while allowing just two earned runs on three hits with a walk and two strikeouts.
Game 4 begins at 8:03 p.m. ET Thursday. Starting pitchers have yet to be announced. The Astros will be looking to tie the series, while the Rangers will be hoping to get back to their winning ways and take a 3-1 series lead.