Yordan lvarez’s walk-off home run capped a spectacular come-from-behind victory for the Houston Astros in Game 1 of the American League Division Series on Tuesday, evoking memories of October home runs past.
It departed the bat with the same force and velocity as Albert Pujols’ 2005 postseason home run off Brad Lidge at Minute Maid Park. It was the first game-ending home run by a trailing club since Joe Carter’s World Series-winning drive for Toronto in 1993.
The 41,125 fans in attendance and those in both clubhouses – ecstatic on one side, stunned and speechless on the other – could not help but marvel at lvarez’s feat, despite the fact that the Astros’ 8-7 victory over the Seattle Mariners was so early in the postseason that it won’t go down in history.
The Mariners, who are in the playoffs for the first time in 20 years, surrendered a lead comparable to the one they overcame in Saturday’s wild card-clinching victory against Toronto. And after Alex Bregman’s two-run home run in the eighth inning reduced the Astros’ lead to 7-3, lvarez’s home run propelled Houston to its ninth consecutive playoff-opening victory, tying a major league record.
lvarez stated, “I don’t know what to say if, as a Houston fan, that didn’t get you pumped and animated.” “Similarly, I was telling my wife about a person who was having a bad day, and how that moment changed their day; these are the little things. You can brighten someone’s day with such actions.”
With one 93 mph sinker over the heart of the plate, Seattle’s day took a decisive turn for the worse, despite the enthusiasm of the Astros and the audience. Manager Scott Servais of the Seattle Mariners brought in left-handed Robbie Ray to face left-handed lvarez after closer Paul Sewald allowed two runners to reach base. Ray, the reigning AL Cy Young Award winner who signed a $115 million free agent contract with Seattle this winter, is normally a starting pitcher, but Seattle planned to deploy him as a reliever in Game 1.
lvarez is not an average firestorm. With no clear platoon split and Ray’s tendency to allow home runs, Servais bet — and lost. lvarez fouled Ray’s first pitch, a sinker traveling at 94 mph, almost directly back. The second ball traveled 438 feet and landed in the right field bleachers after bouncing off lvarez’s bat at 117 miles per hour.
“I was only attempting to hook him,” Ray explained. “Just did not make it… Simply frustrating.”
Ray claimed that he never considered pitching around lvarez and loading the bases. The Mariners were in a hazardous position after Sewald hit pinch-hitter David Hensley with a full-count fastball then lost Jeremy Pena when he left a 1-2 slider over the plate, which the youngster smacked into center field. Then lvarez arrived.
Jose Altuve, second baseman for the Astros, remarked, “He didn’t miss.” “He is an exceptional hitter. He will not miss twice.”
Altuve is familiar with the sensation of hitting a walk-off home run in the playoffs, having won the 2019 pennant with his rocket to left field at Minute Maid against New York Yankees closer Aroldis Chapman, although even that game was tied. A walk-off home run in the ninth inning down by several runs with two outs? Never occurred before Tuesday.
The Astros’ appearance in October is not unusual. Five consecutive AL Championship Series appearances and an AL-best 106 wins this season nearly matched their franchise record. With a formidable pitching staff, a deep bullpen, a formidable lineup, and outstanding fielding, they are the presumed pennant favorites.
Obviously, they did not expect their postseason to begin with their ace, the likely AL Cy Young winner this season, Justin Verlander, giving six runs on ten hits in four innings. Seattle jumped on him for one run in the first, three runs in the second, and two runs in the fourth, with a two-run home run from J.P. Crawford and the Mariners’ top two hitters, Julio Rodriguez and Ty France, going 5 for 5 in their first five at-bats to spark the offense.
Houston’s bullpen largely stifled Seattle, clearing a path for the Astros’ bats. Yuli Gurriel’s home run in the fourth inning narrowed the margin to 6-3. Bregman performed his duties in the eighth inning. And when lvarez spotted Ray warming up, he pulled out an iPad, reviewed film of his five previous at-bats against the 31-year-old, and attempted to repeat his performance from the regular season, in which he hit.306/.406/.612 in 136 games.