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‘Terrific’ Montgomery lifts Rangers to Game 1 win

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‘Terrific’ Montgomery lifts Rangers to Game 1 win

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HOUSTON — Jordan Montgomery came up big in the Texas Rangers‘ biggest game of the year, continuing a personal scoreless streak, helping his club to preserve a perfect postseason and, just maybe, earning a new nickname in the process.

Montgomery outdueled future Hall of Famer Justin Verlander on Sunday, tossing 6 1/3 scoreless innings in Texas’ 2-0 Game 1 victory over the defending champion Houston Astros. The gem was Montgomery’s second-straight scoreless effort in the postseason, as pitching remains the key to Texas’ startling 6-0 postseason mark.

“If (starting in the postseason) doesn’t raise your game in the playoffs, I don’t think you’re doing it right,” Montgomery said. “Obviously, I was super excited to take the ball tonight. And anytime I can give my team a chance to win, I’ll do my best.”

The Rangers, the AL’s No. 5 seed, have opened each of their three playoffs series on the road and won all three series openers, becoming just the fourth team to accomplish that feat. The Texas staff has posted a 1.83 team ERA during the spree and gotten four quality starts, most of any postseason team, including two from Montgomery.

No one had a better vantage point of Montgomery’s mastery than Rangers catcher Jonah Heim, who singled, walked and drove in one of the Rangers’ two runs. It was Heim who might have given Montgomery a new moniker, calling him “Big Guy” as he threw his arms around the clutch lefty in the clubhouse.

“That was the first time (calling him that),” Heim said. “I don’t know where that came from. But it’s a good one.”

Montgomery carved up the Astros by mixing in curveballs, four-seams fastballs and a few changeups along with his trademark sinker, moving all of his offerings around the strike zone and just out of it. The vaunted Houston offense was off balance all through Montgomery’s outing.

“Nothing’s straight and nothing’s the same,” Heim said. “Same release point, ball gets on you, big guy. Sometimes he steps on the brakes with his curveball and other times he rams in a four-seam on you. It makes my job easy.”

Montgomery had to be on his game because Verlander was proving to be almost as stingy against the high-scoring Texas offense, holding them to Heim’s RBI single in the second and a solo homer on a hanging Verlander slider in the fifth.

“Sometimes, you have to tip your hat,” Verlander said. “Jordan pitched incredibly well.”

With both Montgomery and Verlander pitching into the seventh inning, Game 1 had as close to an old school pitching duel as you get in the current era of quick hooks for starting pitchers. The game was the first in this year’s playoffs so far in which both starters went six-plus innings.

“Both sides, great pitching,” Rangers manager Bruce Bochy said. “We just found a way to get a couple of runs across the board. That was the difference in the game, obviously. But our guy was really good, Monty, terrific job he did.”

Montgomery struck out six batters, getting Houston’s star slugger Yordan Alvarez for three of the whiffs. Montgomery threw 90 pitches and scattered five Houston singles. He felt like he had plenty left in the tank, too, when he was taken out of the game.

“I thought in the seventh that I had a little longer leash and that would at least go until someone got on base or whatever, but obviously (Bochy) pulled me,” Montgomery said. “I was trying to go as deep as I could.”

Montgomery had more than a little help from his defense as well, with rookie left fielder Evan Carter making a leaping grab of an Alex Bregman liner in the first. Then Carter, 21, made the play of the game by nabbing an eight-inning Bregman drive against the fence in left-center, a play that resulted in a double play after Jose Altuve failed to re-touch second base while retreating to first base.

“Our guys played well,” Bochy said. “Our defense was outstanding tonight. The kid, Carter, what a game he had out there.’

Carter also scored the first run of the game on Heim’s single after stretching a grounder that leaked into right field into a double.

“I’m just having fun, that’s what it’s all about,” Carter said. “We’re playing a game. And it’s a fun one, too.”

Everyone on the Texas side of Minute Maid Park was having fun after the Rangers grabbed the series lead against their cross-state nemesis. But they also know that the Astros, playing in their seventh consecutive ALCS, are not going to be daunted by one two-run loss.

“We’ve lost Game 1 of some playoff series before,” Verlander said. “And that’s the great thing about this team. Obviously nobody is sitting in the locker room right now happy. But it’s very matter of fact. OK, we just got punched. How do you answer?”

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