The sole survivor: Jeremy Peña home run lifts Astros to 6th straight ALCS

Astros advance to ALCS. Composite image by Brandon Strange.

It was the longest scoreless game in Major League Baseball history, but in the end it was shortstop Jeremy Peña that sealed the win and the series for Houston.

The Houston Astros advanced to their sixth straight American League Championship Series, beating the Mariners 1-0 in the elimination Game Three in the American League Division Series. The lone run came on a homer by Peña in the top of the 18th inning.

It was a pitchers’ clinic between Houston’s Lance McCullers Jr. and Seattle’s George Kirby to start the game, and it became a clinic for a lengthy list of relievers that also joined in. Both starters made it through six innings, Kirby made it through seven, without giving up a single run.

In total, the Astros and Mariners had a combined 18 pitchers throw a ball in Game Three. Houston’s eight pitchers allowed only seven hits, 0 earned runs and had 22 strikeouts. Seattle’s 10 combined to give up only 11 hits and had 20 strikeouts, but Penn Murfee for the Mariners gave up the lone run.

Houston pitcher Luis Garcia was huge for the Astros. He came into the game in the 14th inning, and essentially was Houston’s second starter. Garcia gave up only two hits and got six strikeouts against the Mariners, including the final out on a line drive to Julio Rodriguez.

Both teams were able to get traffic on the bases throughout the game, particularly early but neither could capitalize, which was the story of the entire game.

The Astros arguably had the best chance to break the stalemate early in the second inning when they had Yuli Gurriel and Kyle Tucker at second and third base. Seattle third baseman Eugenio Suárez did a great job scooping up a ball thrown by catcher Cal Raleigh when Tucker went to steal third base.

Raleigh’s throw was in the dirt and had it gotten past Suárez, it would have allowed Tucker to score on an error. Instead, he stayed at third and Kirby struck out Chas McCormick, which kept the game tied at 0.

McCullers got into a groove following the traffic by the Mariners in the second inning. He put together a strong performance, striking out seven batters and giving up only two hits on 88 pitches in Saturday’s game. Kirby was right behind McCullers with a strong performance of his own. He struck out five batters allowing six hits on 91 pitchers for the Mariners.

The relievers for both teams came into the game and continued the trend of shutout baseball. Dusty Baker went with Hector Neris and Rafael Montero after McCullers. Scott Servais went with Andrés Muñoz and Diego Castillo after Kirby in the seventh and eighth innings.

Neris, Montero and Muñoz were able to keep the scoreboard at 0. Castillo gave up a single to Gurriel and then hit Aledmys Díaz with a pitch. Díaz pinch hit for Trey Manchini. With runners at first and second and no outs, it allowed McCormick to bunt and move both runners to second and third.

Servais decided he had seen enough and went to Matt Brash. The decision for the skipper paid off as he struck out Christian Vázquez and Altuve, who had an abysmal outing against the Mariners in Game Three.

Looking ahead

When it comes to pitchers that did not see action against the Mariners, Baker did not use José Urquidy, who was the only pitcher left standing in the Astros bullpen. Houston did not use Cristian Javier either, who spent the game in the dugout.

Baker went with pitcher Hunter Brown in the 12th and 13th inning. Brown got another taste of postseason action after his debut in Game One. Brown allowed only one hit and also a strikeout in the high pressure situations.

Altuve’s struggles are a big concern heading into the ALCS. He was 0-for-16 against the Mariners in the ALDS, and he went 0-for-8 against Seattle in Game Three. His at-bats were brutal on Saturday. Not only could he not get a hit, but his swings seemed to be more like hacks most of the time.

It is obvious the Venezuela native is in a major slump, and while Baker should be confident his second baseman will eventually figure it out, the manager might need to tweak the lineup going forward and move Altuve down the batting order.

Alvarez, who was the hero for Houston in Games One and Two, went hitless in Game Three. For Astros fans, they will hope that it is an aberration and not the start of a slump.

Now the Astros will wait for the winner of the Cleveland Guardians and New York Yankees. Game One of the ALCS is Wednesday.

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