HOUSTON — Yordan Alvarez smashed a game-ending, three-run homer with two outs in the ninth inning off Robbie Ray, wrecking Seattle’s strategy of using a Cy Young award winner in a rare relief role and vaulting the Houston Astros over the Mariners, 8-7 on Tuesday in their playoff opener.
Trailing all game after a poor start by Justin Verlander, the American League West champion Astros overtook rookie star Julio Rodriguez and the wild-card Mariners at the end to begin their best-of-five division series.
Houston trailed 7-5 when rookie pinch-hitter David Hensley reached with one out in the ninth as Seattle closer Paul Sewald grazed his jersey with a pitch.
Sewald struck out Jose Altuve before Jeremy Pena laced a single to center to chase the right-hander.
Mariners manager Scott Servais then made the bold move to bring in Ray, a left-hander who started Saturday at Toronto in the AL wild-card series, to face the left-handed-hitting Alvarez. Ray, who won the Cy Young last year with Toronto, had made only six relief appearances in his career and never earned a save.
Alvarez, who hit 37 homers this season, sent Ray’s second pitch deep into the seats in right field to set off a wild celebration with his parents in the stands.
The Mariners jumped on Verlander for six runs in four innings to build a 6-2 lead. Yuli Gurriel hit a solo homer in the Houston fourth before Eugenio Suarez’s solo shot in the seventh extended Seattle’s lead to 7-3.
A two-run homer by Alex Bregman off Andres Munoz cut the lead to 7-5 in the eighth inning to set up the dramatic finish.