TEXAS CITY — With the help of a three-run walk-off home run by Yordan Alvarez, the Houston Astros defeated the Seattle Mariners 8-7 to kick off their 2022 postseason campaign.
Seattle had relied on Robbie Ray, the American League Cy Young Award winner from the previous year, to record the final out in what the team anticipated would be its third consecutive postseason victory following 20 seasons of missing the playoffs, since the Astros had trailed from the first inning on. Alvarez, however, had other ideas. He struck out against Ray for a 438-foot rocket to right, scoring three runs and turning a two-run deficit into a one-run triumph.
A walk and two singles within the first four batters gave the Mariners a 1-0 lead, giving Justin Verlander the blame for the Astros’ shaky start. Verlander’s issues persisted into the second inning, necessitating a quick trip to the mound from pitching coach Josh Miller. The Mariners increased their lead to 4-0 after he surrendered a series of singles and a double.
Verlander’s ability to adapt was commended by Mariners Manager Scott Servais prior to Tuesday’s game, who also referred to him as “one of the better pitchers of our era.”
However, Servais added, “I say all that and all pitchers will give you a chance. “They’ll make errors. No matter how talented they are or how excellent their work is, they will err. You must be prepared to seize the opportunity when it arises.
When Verlander calmed down in the third inning and struck out three straight batters, he had some help from Alvarez’s two-run double that clanked off the left field scoreboard wall.
Alvarez, 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,” Alvarez 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.’”
Alvarez’s two R.B.I. energized the Houston crowd, which roared after back-to-back strikeouts from Verlander to start the top of the fourth.But when J.P. Crawford followed that sequence with a home run—the first Verlander had allowed since July 23, when the Astros defeated Seattle on the road—the clamour was immediately quieted.
On top of that, Julio Rodriguez followed up by hitting a triple off Justin Verlander, scoring a run after Ty France, the next batter, doubled him in.
By that point, Astros Manager Dusty Baker had seen enough and shortened Verlander’s workday to four innings. He was then removed from the game when he returned to the dugout, and Bryan Abreu was brought in to relieve him.
Since Game 6 of the 2019 World Series against the Washington Nationals, it was Verlander’s first postseason start. In a 7-2 defeat, he allowed two home runs, and the Nationals went on to win Game 7 to capture their first World Series.
Although Verlander threw only six innings during the pandemic-shortened season before being sidelined by an injury, the Astros nonetheless made it to the American League Championship Series in 2020 without him. After having Tommy John surgery, he missed the entire 2021 season but came back this year to lead the majors in ERA at the age of 39.
Yuli Gurriel’s home run in the bottom of the fourth inning helped the Astros immediately recover and cut the Mariners’ advantage to 6-3. However, subsequent attempts by the Astros to catch up to the Mariners failed. Eugenio Suárez blasted a solo home run in the top of the seventh to increase the Mariners’ lead to 7-3 after the fifth and sixth innings saw neither side score.
When Alex Bregman launched a two-run home ball to left centre in the bottom of the eighth to make the score 7-5, the Astros attempted to mount a rally. However, reliever Andrés Muoz was able to limit the rally to just two runs by striking out two Houston batters to end the inning.
In the top of the ninth, Rodriguez attempted to assist the Mariners add some insurance runs by hitting a sharp line drive to right field that appeared to be headed for the stands. However, Kyle Tucker caught the ball just in time to record the second out.
In order to prevent an Astros comeback attempt in the bottom of the ninth, the Mariners sent Paul Sewald to the mound. Jose Altuve came to the bat with one out and was one swing away from tying the game when Sewald struck pinch-hitter David Hensley with a pitch. After Altuve was struck out by Sewald, Jeremy Pea singled to shallow centre field.
Servais removed Sewald and put Ray in his place because he needed one out. With two runners on base, Alvarez went up to the bat and blasted a powerful three-run home ball to right field, giving the Astros a walk-off victory and a 1-0 series lead.
Alvarez was surrounded by his teammates in celebration as he crossed home plate, and Minute Maid Park’s crowd went wild.
Before travelling to Seattle for Game 3 of the series on Saturday, the Mariners and Astros will play one more game on Thursday in Houston.