December 7, 2023

HOUSTON — Adolis Garcia neared home plate and cupped his right hand around his ear, taunting an opposing crowd that had grown increasingly more distraught with every swing of his bat. It was the eighth inning of a blowout, the aftermath of Garcia’s third home run in a stretch of six at-bats to conclude this American League Championship Series.

The deafening jeers that had filled Minute Maid Park on Sunday and Monday had faded into a murmur, drowned out by “MVP” chants voiced by the hundreds of those who made the 250-mile drive south from the Texas Rangers‘ home turf.

They proved to be prophetic.

The Rangers raced past the defending champion Houston Astros in their own building on Monday night, capturing an 11-4 Game 7 victory to punch their ticket into the World Series. And Garcia — the man who triggered a benches-clearing incident during a controversial hit by pitch in Game 5 then provided the devastating blow with a prodigious grand slam in Game 6 — had his fingerprints all over it, solidifying MVP honors after a stirring ALCS performance.

“I’ve never seen a player get booed the way he did,” Rangers general manager Chris Young said. “And to see the way he responded and the way he put the team on his back and carried us, it once again speaks to the character of the person. He’s a tremendous player, tremendous competitor, great teammate, everything that we want.”

Garcia lined a Cristian Javier offering off the top of the left-field scoreboard in the first inning, settling for a single because he admired it too long, then promptly stole second base. In the third, he lofted a fly ball over the right-field fence to give the Rangers their fourth run. In the fourth, he provided the two-run single that highlighted a four-run inning and helped turn Game 7 into a rout. And in the eighth, he unleashed a towering fly ball that sailed into the Crawford Boxes and essentially ended the Astros, denying them their third consecutive World Series appearance.

Garcia finished the ALCS with 15 RBIs, a record for any postseason series. He became the second player in major league history with four hits and two home runs in a winner-take-all game, joining Carlos Beltran from the 2004 National League Division Series, and the first player ever to drive in at least one run in six consecutive games in a postseason series.

“October is different, in every sense — the emotions, the fans, everything is different,” the Cuban-born Garcia said in Spanish. “But thankfully, I’ve always been able to control my emotions and keep being myself.”

The Rangers, who will host the winner of Tuesday’s decisive National League Championship Series game between the Philadelphia Phillies and the Arizona Diamondbacks, are the fourth team to reach the World Series within two years of losing 100 games.

They lost exactly 102 in 2021. Later that offseason, the Rangers’ front office spent a combined $500 million on two cornerstone middle infielders in Corey Seager and Marcus Semien. The following year, they spent nearly $250 million to outfit their rotation with Jacob deGrom, Nathan Eovaldi and Andrew Heaney. At midseason, they traded for Max Scherzer, who recorded the first eight outs of Game 7, and Jordan Montgomery, who got the next seven. Along the way, Jonah Heim became an All-Star catcher, Nathaniel Lowe won a Silver Slugger Award at first base, Josh Jung and Evan Carter emerged as rookies, and Garcia developed into a star, giving the Rangers one of the sport’s most prolific offenses, a trait that carried them through the summer of 2023.

Their road was treacherous. But Bruce Bochy, a three-time champion who returned from a three-year hiatus to manage the 2023 Rangers, provided the steady hand that guided them through it.

Texas gave up the division to Houston on the final day of the regular season and was instead forced to play in the wild-card round with an unsteady bullpen. It triggered a stunning seven-game postseason winning streak. The Rangers won back-to-back games to quickly dispatch the Tampa Bay Rays then swept the Baltimore Orioles in three division series games and took both road contests against Houston to begin this ALCS. They lost three straight at Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas, the last one on a demoralizing ninth-inning homer from Jose Altuve in Game 5. But they came back to win Game 6 and never trailed in Game 7.

“They just keep getting up, keep getting up,” said Bochy, now 6-0 all time in winner-take-all games. “It’s as tough a club as I’ve had.”

Javier, who gave up just two runs through his first four postseason starts combined, yielded three runs against his first six batters on Monday, serving up a 440-foot homer to Seager, a long run-scoring single to Garcia and another RBI single to Mitch Garver. The Astros threatened off Scherzer in the third, but the Rangers came back with four runs off J.P. France in the top of the fourth. In the sixth, Lowe’s two-run homer proved to be the dagger. Garcia’s long shot in the eighth was superfluous. Over his last six at-bats of this series, Garcia had five hits, three of which sailed over the fence. He drove in nine runs in that stretch alone.

“It’s not easy to accept or say, but we got beat,” Astros manager Dusty Baker said. “We’ve been spoiled around here as far as winning and winning and winning. And heck, I’ve been here four years, and we’ve been to two World Series and two championship series. We have nothing to be ashamed of or nothing to hold our head down about. We’re down, but we’re not out. And every team in baseball would trade to have had the last four years that we’ve had.”

The Astros were making their seventh consecutive trip to the ALCS and had secured two titles during that stretch.

The Rangers still seek their first title.

A little over a decade ago, they assembled another offensive juggernaut headlined by Adrian Beltre, Josh Hamilton, Nelson Cruz and Michael Young. They reached the World Series in 2010 but were quickly dispatched by Bochy’s San Francisco Giants in five games. The Rangers got back there again in 2011, but David Freese and the St. Louis Cardinals broke their hearts, staging an epic comeback in Game 6 then outlasting Texas in Game 7.

Now, the Rangers are back in the Fall Classic once more, four wins away from capturing the first title in the history of a franchise that stretches more than 60 years.

“I hope this is the beginning of something special,” Chris Young said, “but I don’t take for granted how hard it was to get here.”

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