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Rangers blank defending champion Astros in MLB playoffs

Texas pitcher Jordan Montgomery baffled Houston batters for 6 1/3 scoreless innings on Sunday as the visiting Rangers beat the defending champion Astros 2-0 in the Major League Baseball playoffs.

Montgomery struck out six and scattered five hits with a walk as the Rangers took a 1-0 lead in the best-of-seven American League Championship Series, which continues on Monday in Houston.

“He had command of all his pitches,” Texas catcher Jonah Heim said. “He made some really big pitches when he had to. That was really impressive.”

Arizona visits Philadelphia on Monday to open the National League Championship Series, which will decide the Texas-Houston winner’s opponent in the World Series.

An Astros club making its seventh consecutive appearance in the ALCS was mystified by Montgomery, a 30-year-old US left-hander who outdueled Houston ace Justin Verlander, a two-time World Series champion who struck out five but surrendered two runs on six hits over 6 2/3 innings.

Texas took a 1-0 lead in the second inning when Evan Carter doubled and scored on a Heim single.

Leody Taveras homered off Verlander in the fifth to give the Rangers a 2-0 lead.

At 21, Carter, who made his MLB debut last month, is the youngest player in MLB history with five extra-base hits in his first six playoff games.

“This is so much fun. That’s all I think about,” Carter said. “This is awesome. I’m just trying to keep my feet grounded and keep rolling with this team. This has been a lot of fun.”

Houston squandered a golden scoring chance in the eighth inning after Jose Altuve walked. Alex Bregman followed with a deep fly ball to left field that was grabbed by Carter for an out.

“I was hoping it wouldn’t go over right there,” Carter said. “If it would have been a couple feet to the left, it might have. It played to our favor playing a tough wall back there. It worked out well.”

Altuve had rounded second base and raced back to first, but in doing so did not retouch second base on his way back. The Rangers threw back to second, made a video replay appeal and Altuve was called out. Yordan Alvarez then grounded out to end the inning.

Rangers closing relief pitcher Jose Leclerc entered in the ninth inning and retired the heart of the Astros lineup in order to complete the victory.

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