BALTIMORE (AP) — For the first time this postseason, the maligned Texas bullpen had to protect a slim lead in the late innings.
Josh Sborz, Aroldis Chapman and José Leclerc wobbled but didn’t fall.
Andrew Heaney and Dane Dunning helped Texas reach the sixth inning ahead, and the Rangers held on through some anxious moments for a 3-2 victory over the Baltimore Orioles in Game 1 of their AL Division Series on Saturday.
“The bullpen did a great job,” manager Bruce Bochy said. “Got bumpy, but found a way to get through it.”
Josh Jung homered and made a nice play at third base to start a critical double play for Texas, which improved to 3-0 in these playoffs — all on the road.
Game 2 in the best-of-five series is Sunday at Camden Yards.
After leading the AL West most of the season but squandering the division crown on the final weekend, the wild-card Rangers entered the postseason without Jacob deGrom and Max Scherzer — and with a bullpen largely considered a weak link. But they’ve allowed only three runs in three games against the Orioles and Rays.
The late innings weren’t all that stressful in the Wild Card Series against Tampa Bay, as Texas outscored the Rays 11-1 for a two-game sweep. It was a more nervous finish against the Orioles.
Heaney held Baltimore to a run and two hits in 3 2/3 innings. Dunning relieved him and went two innings for the win, allowing a run in the sixth. Will Smith, Sborz, Chapman and Leclerc combined for the final 10 outs — but not without some drama.
Sborz threw seven straight balls to start the seventh but pitched around a leadoff walk. Chapman walked the first two batters in the eighth before Jung ranged to his left and snagged Anthony Santander’s high bouncer on a short hop to start a 5-4-3 double play. Chapman then struck out Ryan Mountcastle with a runner on third to end the inning.
Leclerc earned the save, although he allowed a leadoff single in the ninth to Gunnar Henderson. All-Star catcher Jonah Heim threw out Henderson trying to steal second, and the Orioles didn’t manage another baserunner.
Baltimore manager Brandon Hyde didn’t appear happy in the dugout with Henderson’s decision to go.
“A little miscommunication there,” Hyde said.
Kyle Bradish struck out nine in 4 2/3 innings for the Orioles but allowed two runs in the fourth to take the loss. Jung and Santander traded solo homers in the sixth.
Texas has been without deGrom for a while, and the Rangers left Scherzer off their ALDS roster Saturday because of shoulder problems that have kept him out since mid-September. So far, however, the Rangers’ pitching has held up.
Jordan Montgomery and Nathan Eovaldi kept the Rays at bay in the Wild Card Series, and then the Heaney-Dunning tandem gave the Rangers a chance to win again.
The Orioles won 101 games and a division title this year, but it’s been a rough start to the playoffs for the AL East. Tampa Bay and Toronto were swept in the first round, and now Baltimore is trailing after its postseason opener.
This was the first playoff game at Camden Yards since 2014, and a crowd packed with orange-clad fans saw former Orioles star Adam Jones throw out the first pitch and longtime fan Joan Jett sing the national anthem. After a 73-minute rain delay at the start, Bradish struck out five in the first two innings to keep the mood festive.
Adolis García and Evan Carter hit consecutive doubles to put Texas up 1-0 in the fourth, and Heim followed with an RBI single.
The 21-year-old Carter became the youngest player in major league history with four extra-base hits in his first three postseason games.
Mountcastle hit a run-scoring double for the Orioles in the bottom of the inning, but Dunning came in and held the lead.
Texas was clinging to a 3-2 advantage in the seventh when Sborz issued a leadoff walk to Aaron Hicks on four pitches. The right-hander then battled back from a 3-0 count and retired Adam Frazier on a flyball.
Sborz struck out Cedric Mullins and pinch-hitter Ryan O’Hearn to end the inning.
“I think we respond fine,” Hyde said. “We just need to get some early runs. Even the last week or so of the season, just had a tough time kind of scoring early. It takes a lot of pressure off a lot of people, on the mound and on themselves, if we can try to get a few runs across early.”
The Rangers missed a chance to break the game open. After scoring two runs in the fourth, they had the bases loaded and two outs when Bradish struck out Marcus Semien. Texas left 10 runners on base in all.
The Orioles (30-16) were one of the top teams in the regular season in one-run games, and the Rangers (14-22) were among the worst. But Texas prevailed in this one.
The Orioles also led the majors by hitting .287 with runners in scoring position, meaning they could be in trouble if they regress in that area. They were 0 for 4 on Saturday.
Baltimore entered the series with one of the game’s top young catchers in Adley Rutschman and an AL Rookie of the Year favorite in Henderson, but it was the Texas catcher (Heim) who had a big hit and made a clutch throw. And it was two Texas rookies (Jung and Carter) who drove in important runs.
“Ever since he’s gotten here, he’s just been a dude,” Jung said of Carter. “To be 21 years old coming in and be stone cold at the plate — I’ve never seen someone come up here and not chase pitches around the zone.”
Rangers: Texas remains without Scherzer in this series, even after he faced hitters at Friday’s workout. He hasn’t pitched since Sept. 12.
Orioles: Baltimore had to leave LHP John Means — who was a possible candidate to start Game 3 — off the roster because of elbow soreness.
Montgomery is set to start Game 2 for the Rangers against Baltimore rookie Grayson Rodriguez. Montgomery pitched seven scoreless innings against the Rays last round. Rodriguez posted a 2.58 ERA after the All-Star break.
AP MLB: https://apnews.com/hub/mlb