SEATTLE The day, which was two years in the making, appeared as if it would never end. The third game of the American League Division Series between the most-favored Houston Astros and Seattle Mariners, playing their first postseason game since 2001, was a spectacle of dazzling pitching, impressive defense, and in the 18th inning the only strike that was important.
A rookie Jeremy Pena‘s solo home run off Mariners reliever Penn Murfee provided the only score in Houston’s 1-0 win that secured the team’s place on the AL Championship Series for the sixth straight season. Never before has an AL Championship game been scoreless for longer than Game 3. The 18-inning game tied an all-time record in postseason play along with three other games, making its time of six hours, 22 minutes the third longest. The 42 strikeouts both teams recorded established a record. The four walks that were combined with the absence of errors showed the fact that this was not only a contest of poor offensive shrewdness, but an exercise in run prevention.
It was the culmination of an absurd outcome: the close sweep. Although Houston was able to win three of the games in the best-of-5 series victories in Game 1 and 2 demonstrated that the Mariners weren’t a accident. They weren’t strong enough to overcome Houston’s formidable pitchers and dangerous lineup.
“We kept putting the zero up there and they kept putting the zero up there and you think we’re going to be able to break through because we have so many times,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said. “It’s kind of what we’re accustomed to, playing those tight games and finding a way. … I mean, that is a big league game, with the pitching and defense that was fired out there. We just weren’t able to put anything together.”
In the opening half the focus was on the two great opening pitchers, led of Seattle first-year pitcher George Kirby and Houston right-hander Lance McCullers Jr. He was fighting an illness. Kirby pitched seven dazzling shutout innings, and McCullers almost matched Kirby’s record with six innings. Both pitched to a bullpen that is among the top in the game, which both displayed when arms after arm started and left the game without giving up the ball to run.
Seven Seattle relievers pitched scores-free innings. Houston also had a similar record with a lead from Luis Garcia, the right-handed pitcher who finished with five complete innings. He with two hits, no walks, but struck out six and shut down the 18th to secure the win.
Pena, a rookie of 25 years, who assumed the shortstop position after the free-agent departure from Carlos Correa was the needed run at the top of the innings. He started the at-bat with a batting average of with a batting average of 0-for-7. He went 1-for-8 after Murfee put up a slider and Pena hit it hard in center field.
“You could tell by his brightness in his eyes and his alertness on the field that he wasn’t scared and he wasn’t fazed by this,” Astros manager Dusty Baker said. “Boy, he’s been a godsend to us, especially since we lost Carlos, because this could have been a disastrous situation had he not performed the way he has.”
Houston’s offense, which was among the top of the AL this season, racked up only 11 hits over 63 games. Seattle’s offense that was defined through the power of home runs in the current season, hit 7-for-60. The Mariners hit 22 times, and also drew three walks. The Astros did not walk a single time in 20 strikeouts. The defense was spotless but none more so than the time Mariners superstar rookie Julio Rodriguez tracked down the Yuli Gurriel shot that landed in the right-center field space in the 16th to stop two runs.
The entire nightlong “Ju-li-o” chants permeated T-Mobile Park where 47,690 people gathered to watch the Mariners the first team to make it to the playoffs since 2001’s group which won 116 games during the regular season but fell to the ALCS. Although this Mariners core could be back in the playoffs over the coming years however, the Astros remain an organization through which AL runs.
A weak bullpen had hampered their players in previous seasons and the Astros concentrated on improving the bullpen this season and following McCullers had a long list of powerful relievers who pitched a scoreless innings: Hector Neris, Rafael Montero, Ryan Pressly, Bryan Abreu and Ryne Stanek. The rookie Hunter Brown put on two scores-free innings. Then came Garcia’s command performance.
“This at-bat,” Pena stated of his home run “was not possible if our pitching team could not keep us engaged in our ball games. They were the dominant team throughout the game. Their pitching team was dominant all game.”
It was a rematch of a game earlier in the postseason that was played when Cleveland as well as Tampa Bay were scoreless until 15th which is when the newcomer Oscar Gonzalez hit an unassisted home run to seal the wild-card game with the Guardians. A strong pitching performance has been the crucial factor to the success of Houston, Philadelphia and San Diego who all have made it to the next round. Cleveland could be in contention for the final championship series spot and take on the Astros with a victory over the Yankees.
“We’re expecting more of the same,” Baker stated It’s reasonable to expect it. Since MLB began to create divisions in 1969 and no team has made it to the ALCS at least six times. The Astros began their journey with a championship win in 2017, but they lost World Series in 2019 and 2021. They will be likely to return following winning 106 games and being the only team in the playoffs with no loss.
And, for The Astros this sweep will allow the team to change their rotation rather than making use of ace Justin Verlander in the event of a game 4 in the series against Seattle. With the ALCS scheduled to start on Wednesday, Verlander as well as the Astros are the No. 2 starter, Framber Valdez, can pitch on extra rest.
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