As the season clock ticks away, things have never been more dire in Astroland. Following a much-needed, dominant, 8-inning start by Justin Verlander on Monday night, the Astros found themselves on Tuesday singing the blues again as Seattle took an early lead in the 3rd and never looked back.
In a game punctuated by costly errors from Houston, George Kirby out-dueled Cristian Javier for a 6-2 Mariner victory. The series was evened at 1-1 and cut the Astros lead on the final AL Wild Card spot to a half-game.
On Wednesday night, with Game 3 on tap, the Astros sent Co-Ace, Framber Valdez to the mound to matchup against Seattle right-hander, Bryce Miller. Miller started strong for the Mariners with a quick first inning. The only blemish was a walk to Alex Bregman, who was caught stealing at second base after Miller stepped off the mound and threw to J.P. Crawford for the second out of the night. This was followed up by a Yordan Alvarez strikeout to end the inning.
Things didn’t go as smoothly for Valdez as his Seattle counterpart. The Mariners jumped out to an early 1-0 lead when leadoff batter J.P. Crawford turned the second pitch of the game into his sixth leadoff home run of the season.
Framber then walked Julio Rodriguez (who eventually stole third base) and Eugenio Suarez but settled down to strikeout two of the next three batters. Miller cruised through the Astros lineup through three innings, allowing only two hits, but things got dicey in the top of the 4th when Yordan Alvarez led off the hit parade with a 442-foot blast to center, his 31st of the season, to tie the game at 1-1.
After getting Tucker to pop out, Miller allowed hits to both Jose Abreu & Michael Brantley. With runners on first and third, Mauricio Dubón deposited a 1-0 sweeper in the stands to give the Astros a 4-1 lead.
Framber, however, remained consistently inconsistent, mixing strikeouts (7) with walks (5) and eventually allowing a 2-run single to Suarez which scored Calaballero and Raleigh. The 2 RBIs for Suarez put him at 94 for the season and brought the game back within Seattle’s reach at 4-3.
After both starters were respectively pulled to start the fifth, the bullpens took over and immediately added to the excitement. Stepping in for Miller, LHP Gabe Spier was called in and ended up with two outs and runners on first and third before handing the ball to Justin Topa, who got Abreu to ground into a fielder’s choice to end the threat.
Houston’s bullpen also stepped up to the challenge as Kendall Graveman worked an 11-pitch 5th inning in substitution of Valdez.
Neris came in for the sixth inning and things got a little wild. Neris, after striking out Mike Ford & Josh Rojas, walked J.P. Crawford on six pitches. With two outs and a runner on first, Julio Rodriguez stepped to the plate and was shut down on three straight pitches.
After a swinging strike three, Neris started making his way towards home, shouting in Julio’s direction, which ended up in both benches clearing & bullpens emptying.
Once both sides retreated to their corners and play continued, things just kept getting progressively worse for the Mariners. In the top of the 7th, with Topa working in his third inning, the unraveling began with a critical fielding error by Teoscar Hernandez.
Misplaying a single and allowing the ball to get behind him, Hernandez let Alex Bregman take 3rd base with only one out. An intentional walk to Alvarez caused the Mariners to make the call for lights-out RHP Matt Brash. Brash has been on an incredible run dating back to August 25th, going 14 innings with 0 earned runs, 17 Ks and only seven hits while opponents were hitting .149 over that span.
On this night, however, Brash didn't live up to his name. With Alvarez on first and Bregman on third, “King Tuck” came through in a big way, smacking an RBI double and sparking a three-run rally. Abreu hit an RBI single to bring in Yordan and Brantley, with his 3rd hit of the night, singled to center, bringing Tucker home before a Peña flyout ended the inning.
Martin Maldonado, hit a solo home run to increase the Houston lead 8-3.
The Astros turned to reliever Bryan Abreu to keep the Mariners at bay, and he did just that. Abreu has been phenomenal since the All-Star break. In 27 appearances dating back to July 14th, he has allowed one earned run (0.34 ERA) with 30 strikeouts in 26.1 innings while holding hitters to a .129 avg.
Abreu went 1.2 innings and struck out four. The Mariners had runners on first and third with one out before Abreu struck out Crawford for his last batter of the night. In the bottom of the 8th with two outs, the Astros turned to closer Ryan Pressly, who K’d Julio Rodriguez on three straight pitches. Pressly came back on for the ninth and put two base runners on, however, got back-to-back flyouts from France and Raleigh to end the night.
After this stirring division win, the Astros extend their lead in the American League Wild card to 1.5 games over the Mariners. Starting Thursday, Sept 28th, the Mariners host a four-game series against the Texas Rangers who currently lead the AL West at 89-69.
The Astros travel to Arizona to begin a 3-game series on Friday, Sept 29th vs. the Diamondbacks who have a two-game lead on the Cubs & Marlins for the 2nd NL Wild Card spot.