HOUSTON — Two days after coming from behind to beat the Mariners with a home run, the Astros were still reveling in the electrifying energy of victory. They channeled that sentiment on Thursday, beating the Mariners again, this time 4-2, to take a two-game to zero grip on the series.
Before starting Thursday, Astros pitcher Framber Valdez said Wednesday that when Yordan Alvarez came to the plate Tuesday with two runners on board, the team “knew something good was going to happen.” The key to Game 2 after Alvarez’s home run in Game 1, Valdez said through a Spanish-speaking interpreter, was to keep that positivity going.
“I think it’s really important for us to continue that energy,” Valdez said.
Like Valdez, Astros manager Dusty Baker said Wednesday that keeping the momentum going from Tuesday’s game was crucial for Game 2.
“What games like this do, it excites the fans, it excites us,” Baker said. “It transcends top to bottom, fans, office workers, janitors, everyone in the organization, just trying to think positively about the outcome of the game.”
The Astros kept that positivity for Game 2 and relied on Alvarez again, who went deep again on Thursday. This time, Alvarez hit a two-run home run to left field in the bottom of the sixth, turning a 2-1 deficit for the Astros into a 3-2 lead.
“He’s a big boy,” Baker said of Alvarez after the game. “I call him Big. He rides big. We love having him on the plate. He loves being in the big moment. His focus and discipline are way ahead of his years.
Valdez started Thursday’s game with efficiency, striking out the Mariners’ first eight batters of the day. He was helped by Kyle Tucker, who hit a solo home run to right field in the second inning.
Valdez struggled in the fourth, giving up a walk and then a one-out double, clearing the way for Carlos Santana with runners on second and third.
Santana hit a short ground ball that Valdez lined up. He tried to get out at home but strayed a throw to his catcher Martín Maldonado, giving up a run. The mistake prompted a visit to the mound from Astros pitching coach Josh Miller and Maldonado.
The Astros threw Santana to the base after the error, but Valdez then gave up another run when Dylan Moore fielded a right single field. But he quickly calmed down in the fifth inning, striking out three straight batters with consecutive strikeouts and a flyout.
Valdez started to unravel again in the sixth inning, loading the bases with two outs with a walk, a double and another walk.
That was enough for Baker, who pulled Valdez out of the game and called in right-hander Héctor Neris from the bullpen. Neris helped the Astros escape the inning unscathed with a groundout.
The Astros took the lead in the bottom half on Alvarez’s homer to left field that led Jeremy Peña, who had picked to put in base.
After the game, Alvarez said he tried to visualize any opportunity given when he was at bat.
“I just try to disconnect from everything when I get up there at home plate,” he said. “If everything goes as planned, we will get a positive result. Obviously there’s still a pitcher trying to get me out.
Alex Bregman, Houston’s third baseman, said after the game that Alvarez was successful for the team not only offensively, but also in the outfield.
“He’s been great for us all year,” Bregman said. “Not only offensively, but defensively. He made great clutch defensive plays. He has all the tools. He can run, he can punch, he can punch for power, he can throw, play defense.
Although he allowed a second home run, starter Luis Castillo stayed in the game to start bottom of the seventh. Castillo had been throwing effectively throughout the afternoon, entering the seventh with 75 pitches.
After recording two outs, Castillo gave away a brace to Aledmys Díaz, but he managed to get out of the inning without giving up another run. Castillo finished his day with seven strikeouts in seven innings and three earned runs from both homers.
The Mariners managed to board runners in the seventh and eighth innings but failed to score, as right-handed relievers Bryan Abreu and Rafael Montero helped the Astros hold on to their lead.
In the bottom of the eighth, Peña walked with two outs, clearing the way for Alvarez to add an insurance run, but the Mariners intentionally walked him.
Baker compared Alvarez’s walk from the Mariners to when teams walk Barry Bonds, something Baker has seen a lot in his 10 seasons as Giants manager.
“It was Barry Bonds type stuff there,” Baker said. “I mean, it’s the ultimate respect.”
Mariners manager Scott Servais said after the game that Alvarez’s sixth-sixth home run factored into the team’s decision to offer him his next plate appearance.
“Obviously he did some damage against us in this series,” Servais said. “It’s hot right now. You have to recognize it.
Bregman was able to take advantage, hitting a single to right field to bring in Peña, who beat Mitch Haniger’s pitch to the plate, extending the Astros’ lead to 4-2.
The Astros sent Ryan Pressly to the mound in the top of the ninth to close the game. Pressly walked Adam Frazier to start the inning, then had JP Crawford line out in an unassisted double play.
With two outs, Julio Rodríguez hit a brace down the middle of the field, giving Ty France a chance to keep the Mariners in the game, but Pressly knocked out France to give the Astros the win.
The Astros and Mariners will now travel to Seattle for Game 3 on Saturday in what will be Seattle’s first postseason game since October 2001. If necessary, the teams would also play Game 4 in Seattle on Sunday and then return. in Houston for Game 5 on Monday.
Peña said in the clubhouse after the game that the Astros knew “the job wasn’t done,” heading to Seattle with a 2-0 series lead.
“I expect them to show up,” Peña said of the Mariners. “I expect their stadium to move too.”
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