Mariners drop ALDS opener after Astros home run

HOUSTON — When the two-seam fastball left his hand, Robbie Ray knew trouble was ahead. The pitch was leaking into the middle of the plate in the worst possible way.

When the ball left Yordan Alvarez’s bat and most of Minute Maid Park’s 47,165 people roared in anticipation, Ray was already heading for the Mariners dugout, his head bowed in disgust.

There was no need to watch baseball turn into a vapor trail. He knew the result – a three-run homer. The only question that remained was how far it would go and how much damage it would do to his team as the Mariners tried to advance in the American League Divisional Series after one of their most crushing losses ever. franchise history.

And as Alvarez circled the bases and his teammates waited at home plate to celebrate their stunning 8-7 victory, the Mariners players left the field in disgust knowing they had just been given a chance to rewrite their history. against their AL West rivals in a building that has caused so much frustration, disappointment and now heartache.

Instead, yet another chapter of failure against the Astros will be written with such an unlikely scenario.

How did he get that point with Ray standing on the mound against a team that owned him this season with the game on the line?

Like everything with manager Scott Servais, it wasn’t just a hunch. It was a decision born out of discussion, data and debate. Sailors plan and re-plan for possibilities and success rates.

“Going into the series with where we were at, looking at our rotation, where we were going to go, and talking with Robbie about using him out of the bullpen as a ball, so to speak, for this type of scenario, bringing in the southpaw to face Alvarez,” Servais said. “We talked about it on the show. We talked about it before the game today. I watched it in the 7th inning and said, ‘Hey, it could happen.’

It happened because the Mariners bullpen, including two of its best relievers, allowed base runners and runs, putting them in end-inning drama.

In the eighth inning with the Mariners leading 7-3, Andres Munoz allowed a single to Alvarez and a two-run homer to his personal enemy Alex Bregman. Although Munoz is no longer allowing runs, he has faced enough hitters that the top of the Astros’ roster is a factor.

Servais called on Paul Sewald to start the ninth with a two-point lead. After retiring the first batter of the inning, he fell behind, then hit pincher David Hensley with a pitch to allow the tying run to reach home plate.

Sewald came back to knock out Jose Altuve for the second out and was one shot away from ending the game after coming up 0-2 on rookie Jeremy Pena. But this strike or did not come for Sewald. Pena played a single to center to bring the enormous Alvarez, one of baseball’s most dangerous left-handed hitters, to home plate as the winning run.

Servais turned to Ray, the Mariners’ big free-agent acquisition, this past offseason to take on Alvarez and get that final for a stunning Game 1 win.

“That was the plan going,” Servais said. “At the end of the day, you have this plan, but we still have to execute it.”

There will be plenty who find fault with the plan, given the players involved.

Ray has been beaten so badly by the Astros this season that he wondered if he would make a debut in this series. In three starts against Houston, he had allowed 14 runs on 23 hits in 10 2/3 innings pitched, while the Astros racked up a .442/.509/.865 slant line with four doubles, six homers, seven walks and seven strikeouts in 59 plate appearances against this season.

Houston’s batters were so complicit against him that he wondered if he was tipping his pitches. He got to the point where he had to throw a two-seam fastball on a June 12 start in a bid to stop the carnage.

Now he was on the mound facing Alvarez, who represented the winning run, with runners on first and second and a sold-out crowd on his feet.

Alvarez was right on a first pitch lead from Ray, fouling him back. Ray threw the same pitch in the worst spot and Alvarez crushed him.

It crushed a magical performance where the Mariners scored six runs on 10 hits against Astros ace Justin Verlander, putting him out after four innings.

Seattle held 4-0, 6-2 and 7-3 leads.

Yes, the Mariners handed Verlander one of four regular-season losses on May 27 at T-Mobile Park. It was his worst loss in hits (10), runs (6) and home runs (4) allowed in a game.

But in his last six starts this season, Verlander has made six starts and posted an 0.84 ERA, allowing three earned runs on 15 hits in 32 innings pitched with 47 strikeouts and four walks.

But that version of Verlander wasn’t on the mound Tuesday afternoon.

It was obvious from the first run. He walked Julio Rodriguez and gave up a tough single to Ty France to put the runners first and third with no outs.

After hitting Eugenio Suarez looking, Cal Raleigh threw a single into right field to score Rodriguez and give the Mariners a 1-0 lead.

And while Seattle failed to add more runs in the inning, the air of invulnerability surrounding Verlander had dissipated.

When the start of the second ended, the Mariners had made Verlander look like a mortal. New playoff hero Adam Frazier started with a single, and Jarred Kelenic followed with a single throughout the shift. Instead of putting the runners in scoring position, JP Crawford hit a deep ball to the center, which allowed both runners to score on alert and advance a base.

With first base open, Verlander failed to raise a 1-2 fastball to Rodriguez enough. The rookie hammered the field into space at center right for a two-run brace and a 3-0 lead.

France notched their second of three hits against Verlander, throwing a single down the middle to score Rodriguez and make it 4-0.

The six points allowed are tied for the most earned runs allowed by Verlander in 30 postseason starts. In Game 1 of the 2006 World Series against the Cardinals, he allowed seven runs (six earned) on six hits with two walks and eight strikeouts in five innings of work.

Seattle starter Logan Gilbert gave the Mariners a solid outing, allowing three runs in 5 1/3 innings. But the Astros also had two runs against Andres Munoz on a two-run homer from Alex Bregman.

This story will be updated.

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