The first two games of the American League Championship Series played out as if Major League Baseball’s scriptwriters wanted to show how far the Rangers could bend without breaking, twice. Texas’ bullpen was the team’s biggest red flag by a mile heading into the postseason and its offense didn’t drive in a run after the third inning. And somehow, the Rangers beat their biggest rivals in the most important series the teams have ever played twice on the road to stand a pair of victories away from the World Series. Baseball fandom’s most intense version of purgatory is where Texas fans currently stand, with no recent contemporary coming close.
All Texas has to do is the equivalent of winning a three-game series against Houston at home, and it has won the American League pennant for the first time in a dozen years, two seasons removed from losing 102 games, and only doing eight games better in 2022. The Rangers haven’t lost in the postseason and looked their most dominant in their one previous home game during this dream run in the playoffs. Every usual signal in sports points to Houston being one blow away from hearing “Finish Him!” in the Mortal Kombat version of baseball. As a Rangers fan, I have no reason not to be confident that this series isn’t going back to Houston and the next time the team will play on the road will be after a flight to Philadelphia or Phoenix. The Astros’ two best pitchers have already taken the mound. The Rangers will quickly know and can adjust based on whether New York Met Max Scherzer or Washington National Max Scherzer shows up to start Game 3. That’s the weird part. I don’t know a Texas fan that isn’t still bracing for a major bout of turbulence, even beyond what the first two games of the ALCS brought upon us.
Prior to the beginning of the playoffs, Rangers fans experienced a roller coaster of a season like none in recent memory. Being in the playoffs was a minor fluke to begin with, and most wrote them off when they had to win a Wild Card series against Tampa Bay. Texas needed to win one game from its final regular-season series to clinch a playoff spot. It needed two to win the division. Being swept would’ve meant Seattle, the Rangers’ final opponent, was in the postseason instead. It got one. And somehow that near-implosion led to a 7-0 postseason record. A win on Wednesday night would tie the MLB record for most wins to begin a postseason, set by the Kansas City Royals in 2014. Of the previous five to win their first seven postseason games, only the 2020 Braves didn’t make the World Series. Oddly enough, only two won more than a pennant, including last year’s Astros.
More stats look favorable for the Rangers, and with how streaky they’ve been this season, both excite and scare me. In a best-of-7 series, teams who win the first two games are 75 of 89 (84 percent). The only two teams to overcome that deficit in the last 26 years are the 2020 Dodgers, who beat the aforementioned Braves during the pandemic season with crowd-capacity limits, and the 2004 Red Sox, who actually pulled off the miracle in real life, and not just in Fever Pitch. Odds are even worse for the Astros in the current 2-3-2 format, and dropping the first two games at home, as there have only been three teams to overcome that, and all three happened in the World Series, not the ALCS, or NLCS, and none since the 1996 Yankees. So it’s time for another? Oh gosh. Either the Rangers will actually pull this thing off, or a major collapse will write their name in history in a bad way.
The Astros have this uncanny ability despite their cheating and smug ways to get out of tough situations. And just because they’re unlikable doesn’t mean this current Houston iteration is any less tough. If you want to beat the villains, go for it. The Rangers only mustered four wins in 13 tries in the regular season, including a sweep by the Astros at Globe Life Field last month. Yet, the streakiest team in the last several years of baseball has Houston close to the brink. I’ll always have faith, because Bruce Bochy and his team deserve it. It’s just a matter of when that figurative rough patch hits.