HOUSTON — The Mariners’ best pitcher, and one of the most dominant pitchers at the start of this postseason, stood on the mound ready for another battle with his team leading by a run in the sixth inning and the tying run in the first goal.
The Astros’ best hitter, and one of baseball’s most dominant hitters all season, stood in the box — taller than his 6-5, 225 pounds — ready to crush the hopes and dreams of playoff neophytes. playoffs trying to invade their American League dynasty.
Given what happened on Tuesday night and the delightfully dramatic nature of postseason baseball, another meeting between Luis Castillo and Yordan Alvarez with the game’s outcome hanging in the balance was bound to happen.
With the same expression he wore in the previous five innings, including after pulling out Alvarez twice on low ground and a shallow takeout, Castillo seemed unaware of the 47,774 standing and roaring in anticipation.
Alvarez, who showed on the first two at-bats that he had no interest in walking around, was ready to strike – anything, anywhere.
Castillo fired a first-pitch pellet at 98 mph about five inches from the plate that Alvarez fouled. Knowing he didn’t need to throw a strike to swing Alvarez, Castillo didn’t. He threw another 98 mph sinker. But that pitch was about an inch closer to the plate than the previous one, and that’s all Alvarez needed.
He threw a line drive in the short porch known as Crawford Boxes for the two-run home run, delivering another crushing punch to the Mariners in an eventual 4-2 loss to the Astros.
“I thought our whole club, really the last two games here, had competed as well as they could,” manager Scott Servais said. “We left everything there. Unfortunately, Yordan swung a ball that is a ball and knocked it out of the park. There’s not much you can do about it.
Hollowed out by back-to-back losses due to Alvarez’s late-inning heroics, the Mariners must now recover and try to avoid elimination in Game 3 on Saturday.
“We’re going to come back on Saturday with some vengeance and we’ll be good to go,” receiver Cal Raleigh said. “We’re going to do it on Saturday and get another one on Sunday and bring it back here for Game 5.”
A sold-out, frenzied crowd is expected to be at T-Mobile Park for the first postseason game since 2001.
“I know how hard it is to win on the road and it will be very difficult for them to win in Seattle,” Servais said. ” I am going to tell you. Because I know what it’s gonna be like when our audience kicks in.
Perhaps what hurt the situation the most was that the Mariners could have been out of that sixth inning without Alvarez putting his foot in the batter’s box by removing Jeremy Pena, whose presence on the base in front of Alvarez was just as problematic.
With Julio Rodriguez playing a little deeper than usual, not wanting to allow an extra hit with a one-run lead, Pena threw a pop fly to shallow center field. It was reminiscent of JP Crawford’s base-laden pop out in Toronto.
With Adam Frazier coming out of his spot and Rodriguez sprinting on the play, the ball fell between them. Rodriguez slowed down and didn’t dive, not wanting to crash into Frazier. And if Rodriguez dives and doesn’t catch, Pena has the double or triple and the tying point is in scoring position, which was the whole situation to avoid and the reason to play deep.
And a collision between the two? The worst possible outcome.
“Just a tough game,” Rodriguez said. “Any time you have two guys running straight at each other with a ball in the middle, I’m not happy the ball went down, but I’m happy no type of injury happened. We have all seen what happened in Toronto.
This allowed Alvarez to play the hero again.
“He was having a great game,” Alvarez said. “He’s a great pitcher. But I faced him twice earlier in the game and just went up there, just trying to find good ground to make good contact.
Castillo wasn’t going to pitch around him. He was looking to get him out for a third straight game at bat.
“Against any hitter, I always go with the same mindset, ‘If you’re good, so am I,'” he said through interpreter Freddy Llanos. “I came up with the same plan to get him out and he was able to make contact with that ball.”
As for the location of the pitch, Alvarez ignored the accomplishment.
“I thought if the pitch was out I wasn’t trying to shoot the ball,” he said. “I made several mistakes off the field and found myself under several times.”
Castillo’s only major error was a hanging slider that Kyle Tucker hit for a solo homer in the fourth inning.
For those who think Castillo should have intentionally made Alvarez walk in this situation, they could see the repercussions in the eighth inning.
Seattle’s top reliever Andres Munoz walked Pena with two outs and manager Scott Servais decided to intentionally walk Alvarez and take a chance on Alex Bregman.
Bregman, who hit a two-run homer against Munoz on Tuesday, smoked a right-hand single to score Pena.
That insurance run loomed large in the ninth with the Mariners
Although there’s a lot of debate that Alvarez hurt them, Seattle still only scored two points.
The Mariners collected their only two runs against Astros starter Framber Valdez in the fourth inning.
After walking Eugenio Suarez out with one out and visibly chafing at plate umpire Janson Visconti for not calling two pitches — despite them being balls — Valdez seemed to lose focus and rhythm.
He fell behind Mitch Haniger and left a 3-1 fastball down the middle that turned into a double down the line.
With runners at second and third, Carlos Santana hit a slow bouncer between the mound and the third base line. Valdez rushed off the mound and fired wildly home. The ball passed receiver Martin Maldonado, allowing Suarez to score.
However, the ball hit so hard from the backstop that it came straight back at Maldonado. Santana, who expected to take second place on the error, got caught up in a race and was eventually tagged.
Dylan Moore made up for the error by hitting a single on the first pitch he saw from Valdez in right field to score Haniger and give Seattle a 2-1 lead.
But that was all Seattle would get against him. Valdez came back with a 1-2-3 fifth inning and worked in the sixth.
After leading Ty France to short and hit Eugenio Suarez on a swing, Valdez walked Haniger on five pitches, throwing four straight balls. His outing ended when Carlos Santana doubled into the right-center gap, putting the runners up to second and third.
Avoiding superficial numbers that say receiver Cal Raleigh is more accomplished on the left side of the plate, Astros manager Dusty Baker went for right-hander Hector Neris.
On his first at bat of the game from the left side, Raleigh gently touched down on the right side of the field to end the inning.
Valdez pitched 5 2/3 innings, allowing two runs (one earned) on four hits with three walks and six strikeouts.
This story will be updated.