Astros shock Mariners with 9th-inning blast, take 1-0 series lead
By Jesús Jiménez
The Houston Astros started their 2022 postseason campaign with a bang, coming back from a four-run deficit to defeat the Seattle Mariners, 8-7, with a three-run walk-off home run by Yordan Álvarez.
The Astros trailed from the first inning forward, and Seattle had called on last year’s American League Cy Young Award-winner, left-hander Robbie Ray, to get the final out in what the team hoped would be its third straight postseason win after 20 seasons of not making the playoffs. But left-handed hitter Álvarez had other plans, hitting a 438-foot blast to right off Ray that scored three runs, turning a two-run deficit into a one-run victory.
Justin Verlander had gotten the host Astros off to a rocky start, allowing a walk and a pair of singles within the first four batters that got the Mariners off to a 1-0 lead. Verlander’s struggles continued into the second inning, even requiring an early mound visit from the pitching coach Josh Miller. He gave up a string of singles and a double as the Mariners extended their lead to 4-0.
Before Tuesday’s game, Mariners manager Scott Servais said that Verlander is “one of the better pitchers of our era,” but that he told his team to prepare for any opportunities to strike.
“All pitchers will give you a chance,” Servais said. “They will make mistakes. As good as they are, as good as their stuff is, they will make mistakes. You got to be ready to take advantage of it when it’s there.”
Verlander settled down in the third inning, retiring three straight batters, and got some support in the bottom half when Álvarez hit a two-run double that bounced off the tall scoreboard wall in left field.
Álvarez, who made his major league debut with the Astros in June 2019 and made that year’s postseason roster, said before the game that his experience in the World Series three years ago has helped him feel less pressured in the playoffs this year.
“I think I’ve grown a lot as a player, as a hitter,” Álvarez said through a Spanish-language interpreter. “Being able to go back to the postseason I can say to myself, ‘OK, I know what the experience is like. I know what the environment’s going to be like.’”
Álvarez’s two RBI in the third inning energized the Houston crowd, which roared after back-to-back strikeouts from Verlander to start the top of the fourth.
But the crowd was quickly silenced when J.P. Crawford followed that sequence with a home run, the first Verlander had given up since July 23, when the Astros beat Seattle on the road.
Piling on top of that, Julio Rodríguez then hit a triple off Verlander, and scored a run after the next batter, Ty France, drove him in with a double.
By then, Astros manager Dusty Baker had seen enough, cutting Verlander’s workday at four innings, pulling him from the game when he returned to the dugout and replacing him with right-handed reliever Bryan Abreu.
It was Verlander’s first start in the postseason since Game 6 of the 2019 World Series against Washington. He gave up two home runs in a 7-2 loss, and the Nationals went on to win Game 7 to claim the franchise’s first championship.
Although the Astros reached the league championship series in 2020, the team was without Verlander, who pitched only six innings in the pandemic-shortened season before being shut down with an injury. He missed all of the 2021 season after having Tommy John surgery, but returned this year to lead the majors in ERA at age 39.
After Verlander came out of the game, the Astros and the Mariners exchanged solo home runs, with one from Yuli Gurriel in the bottom of the fourth, and another from Eugenio Suárez in the top of the seventh.
In the bottom of the eighth, the Astros tried to start a rally when Alex Bregman hit a two-run home run to left field to bring the game to 7-5, but reliever Andrés Muñoz constrained the rally to just two runs, striking out two Houston batters to get out of the inning.
Baker said after the game that those runs were crucial to setting up the Astros’ rally.
“You want to win the seventh, eighth, and ninth to give you a chance to win the ballgame,” he said.
The Mariners sent Paul Sewald to the mound in the bottom of the ninth to thwart an attempt at an Astros rally. With one out, Sewald hit pinch-hitter David Hensley with a pitch, putting a runner on base for José Altuve, who stepped up to the plate one swing away from tying the game. Sewald struck out Altuve, but then Jeremy Peña hit a single to shallow center field.
In need of one out, Servais pulled Sewald, and replaced him with Ray. Álvarez came to the plate with two runners aboard, and hit a commanding three-run home run to right field to give the Astros a walk-off win and a 1-0 lead in the series.
As Álvarez reached home plate, he was mobbed by his teammates in celebration as the fans at Minute Maid Park roared.
“That was probably one of the most exciting games that I’ve been a part of,” Baker said.
After the game, Álvarez said that as he saw Ray warming up in the bullpen, he grabbed an iPad to watch video of their previous matchups.
“As soon as I saw him warming up, I knew that he was going to come into the game if it came down to me,” Álvarez said, adding that hitting the winning home run was more special for him because his parents were watching him play in person for the first time this season.
“I think it’s one of the most special moments that I’ve had in my career, having them there,” Álvarez said of playing in front of his family. “Even for just the city of Houston. They know that we’re a team that never gives up.”
Bregman, holding his newborn son Knox while talking to reporters after the game, said he wanted to hug Álvarez as soon as the ball landed in the right field seats.
“But he still had to go run the bases, so I was just waiting for him,” Bregman said, adding that the fans were especially loud. “The place was on fire tonight. The fans were unbelievable. It was so awesome to have a packed house here. The energy was flowing. We felt it. We felt them.”
The Mariners and the Astros will play again this afternoon (3:37 p.m. ET, TBS) in Houston, before heading to Seattle for Game 3 of the series on Saturday.