loading

  About 4 minutes reading time.

Astros feel at home in other Texas ballpark with World Series champ as Lone Star rivalry renews

 The Associated Press  |    Apr 4th, 2024 4:18pm EDT

ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) — The Houston Astros will feel quite at home when on the road for the first time this season in the other Texas ballpark with a World Series champion.

A week into the new season after the Rangers won baseball’s ultimate prize, even after two-time world champion Houston was again the AL West champion, the Lone Star State division rivals open a four-game series Friday night. They last met in the American League Championship Series when the visiting team won all seven games in October, a month after Houston wrapped up the regular-season series by hitting 16 homers and scoring 39 runs in an obliterating three-game sweep at Globe Life Field.

“You hear the guys talking about how well they see the ball there and how much success they’ve had there in the past,” said new Astros manager Joe Espada, their bench coach the past six seasons.

“The goal is to go out there and win. Go out there and win like we always have in the past,” Houston slugger Yordan Alvarez said in Spanish through an interpreter. “There’s no bad blood there. Obviously, they’re the champs from last year that played some good baseball.”

Houston was 9-1 overall last year in the Rangers’ home ballpark, outscoring them by 42 runs in those games. The last was Game 5 of the ALCS, when there was a bench-clearing fracas before Jose Altuve’s three-run homer in the ninth inning gave the Astros a 5-4 victory and the series lead. After three home losses in as many days, the Rangers won twice more at Minute Maid Park to clinch their first AL pennant since 2011.

“It’s good for the game,” Texas manager Bruce Bochy said about the expected atmosphere when the rivalry is renewed. “I’m sure there’s going to be a lot of hoopla and excitement for this series.”

The Rangers already have held their championship ceremonies, unfurling their World Series banner and getting their rings last week during the season-opening home series against the Cubs. Texas took two of three from Chicago, then did the same at Tampa Bay.

Houston is 2-5 but won two of three against Toronto after getting swept by the New York Yankees in four games to open the season. Alvarez hit his first two homers of the season in an 8-0 win Wednesday, when four Astros pitchers combined on a one-hitter just two nights after Ronel Blanco threw a no-hitter.

Both teams were 90-72 in the regular season last year, but Houston got the AL West title on the head-to-head tiebreaker for winning nine of 13 games between them. Since Texas last finished on top in 2016, the Astros have won the division in all six full MLB seasons and have been to the ALCS seven consecutive years, winning four pennants and two World Series (2017 and 2022).

Things got testy in the eighth inning of Game 5 in the first all-Texas postseason series after Rangers slugger Adolis García got hit on the left arm by a 98 mph fastball from Bryan Abreu, then immediately turned and got in the face of catcher Martin Maldonado. The benches and bullpens cleared, and while no punches were thrown with everyone gathered around home plate, García, Abreu and then-Astros manager Dusty Baker were all ejected.

That was two innings after García punctuated a go-ahead homer with an empathic bat spike and a slow trot.

Baker retired days after the ALCS ended and Maldonado left in free agency, signing with the White Sox. Abreu got a two-game suspension for throwing at García, a penalty that was appealed, upheld and then delayed until he served it the first two games this season.

García, who has three homers and six RBIs in the first six games this year, was the ALCS MVP with a postseason series-record 15 RBIs. He homered in each of the last four games against Houston, with two long balls in Game 7.

Houston clinched the regular-season series when Altuve homered twice in a 13-6 win at Globe Life Field on Sept. 4. The 5-foot-6 second baseman hit three more homers in a 14-1 rout the next night, and the 12-3 series finale had Justin Verlander as the winner over Max Scherzer in a matchup of three-time Cy Young Award winners who won’t be available this weekend.

The 41-year-old Verlander is set to make his first rehabilitation start at Triple-A since starting the season on the injured list with right shoulder inflammation. The 39-year-old Scherzer is still working his way back from surgery in December to repair a herniated disk in his lower back.

___

AP Sports Writer Kristie Rieken in Houston and AP freelancer Mark Didtler contributed to this report.

___

AP MLB: https://apnews.com/hub/MLB