For most of Game 1 on Tuesday, the Seattle Mariners looked poised for an upset in their ALDS matchup with the top-seeded Houston Astros.
Yordan Alvarez had other ideas. With his Astros facing a 7-5 deficit in the bottom of the ninth inning, the Houston slugger launched an 0-1 pitch from Robbie Ray into the right-field stands for a 3-run walk-off home run to secure an 8- 7 wins.
The upper-deck blast concluded a rally from 4-0 and 7-3 Houston deficits to secure a 1-0 series lead for the Astros.
Controversial pitching change preceded Alvarez’s heroics
Mariners manager Scott Servais pulled closer Pat Sewald with two outs in favor of Ray in an apparent effort to set up a lefty on lefty matchup with Alvarez. Sewald had allowed two runners on base in the inning, hitting David Hensley with a pitch, then allowing a Jeremy Peña single up the middle to put runners on first and second.
Ray, the reigning AL Cy Young winner and a full-time starter, made the rare relief appearance and allowed the home run to Alvarez on his second pitch. He’d previously made four career relief appearances in 10 MLB seasons and none since 2020.
Alvarez fouled off Ray’s first pitch, a 94 mph fastball over the plate. Ray’s 93 mph offering on his second pitch never stood a chance. Alvarez led the Astros with 37 home runs during the regular season and sent the Minute Maid Park crowd into a frenzy with one of his biggest blasts of the season that traveled 438 feet.
Astros manager Dusty Baker, who managed 25 major league seasons and played 19 MLB seasons before that, called the home run one of the best moments he’s ever seen in the game.
“Boy, that’s so close to the top. I don’t know what the top is, but that’s very, very close to it,” Baker told reporters. “That’s, boy — I mean the baseball world had to be excited. I know the town is excited, our team’s excited.”
Servais, meanwhile, explained his decision to pitch Ray during the decisive at-bat. He and Ray had talked about Ray working out of the bullpen prior to Tuesday’s game.
“We talked about it coming into the series,” Servais told reporters postgame. “We talked about it pregame today. I looked at it in the seventh inning and said, ‘hey, this could happen.’ So that was the plan going in. End of the day, you have a plan, we still got to execute it.”
Alvarez home run makes history
Not only did the home run cap an unlikely comeback in thrilling fashion — it made baseball history. Per MLB, Alvarez’s was the first walk-off home run in postseason history that overcame a multi-run deficit. The three prior postseason walk-off home runs were hit with the batter’s team trailing by 1.
Astros overcome rough start by Verlander
The Mariners looked well on their way to victory after advancing past the Wild Card round in their first playoff appearance since 2001. Cy Young favorite Justin Verlander got the start for Houston but was roughed up for six earned runs before Baker pulled him with no outs in the fourth inning.
Verlander allowed a leadoff walk to Mariners rookie All-Star Julio Rodriguez. Rodriguez advanced to third on a Ty France single, and Cal Raleigh sent him home with a single to right field to take a 1-0 lead. The Mariners then knocked in three base hits and a two-run Rodriguez double off Verlander in the second to extend their lead to 4-0.
Verlander escaped the third inning unscathed as the Astros got on the board with a pair of runs. But when a JP Crawford home run and an RBI double by Raleigh extended Seattle’s lead to 6-2, Verlander’s day was done. He was pulled having allowed 10 hits and six earned runs on 81 pitches. He struck out three and walked one. Four Astros relievers combined to finish out the remaining six innings.
The Mariners entered the eighth inning with a 7-3 lead having pulled starter Logan Gilbert after 5 1/3 3-run innings. A two-run Alex Bregman home run off Andres Munoz cut Houston’s deficit to 7-5. Then came the ninth-inning dramatics that will go down in Astros lore and surely prompt some second-guessing in Seattle.
Game 2 is scheduled for Thursday in Houston after a day off.