Mandatory Credit: Photo by Maria Lysaker/UPI/Shutterstock (13454765c) MLB postseason signage is seen during the workout session at Minute Maid Park, Houston, Texas on Monday, October 10, 2022. The Houston Astros will play the Seattle Mariners at the ALDS on October 11, 2022. MLB Mariners Astros, Houston, Texas, United States - 10 Oct 2022

Richard Justice: This was everything we’ve come to love about these Astros

   This was every single thing we’ve come to love about these Astros. Patience and confidence. Tenacity, too. There was no panic when they trailed by four runs in the second inning and again in the fourth and yet again in the eighth.

They took punch after punch, and delivered a few too, just enough to keep things interesting. At no time could the Seattle Mariners feel completely comfortable even when they were one out from winning.

In this way, the Astros had done themselves proud even before Yordan Alvarez stepped into the batter’s box in the bottom of the ninth inning Tuesday afternoon. Everything that happened during 3 hours, 39 minutes of postseason baseball theater was to put him in that position at the end.

   And that’s when an afternoon of frustration turned into something magical. When Astros fan got a memory that’ll live in their hearts and minds forever.

   The Astros had Jake Meyers on second base and Jeremy Pena on first. Down to their last out and trailing 7-5.

   Once they got the big man in position to win it, pretty much everyone in the packed house of 41,125 had a hunch what would happen next.

   Mariners reliever Robbie Ray allowed a fastball to catch too much of the plate, and Alvarez launched a breathtaking, game-winning home run for an 8-7 victory in Game 1 of the best-of-five American League Division Series.

   He flung his bat toward the Astros dugout as he made his way around the bases as his teammates leaped the railing in a wild celebration.

   This was a game the Astros weren’t supposed to win, and if. you allowed yourself to look down the hallway and around a corner, you’d see that the Seattle ace, Luis Castillo, was lined up to pitch Game 2 on Thursday.

   And then Alex Bregman’s two-run home run in the bottom of the eighth had gotten them within two runs, setting up what happened in the ninth.

   Alvarez immediately joined the list of memorable Astros postseason homers: those by Marwin Gonzalez, Jose Altuve, Chris Burke, and others.

He’d delivered the first walk-off home run in postseason history for a team trailing by multiple runs, and it was just the second walk-off postseason homer by a team down to its final out. (Kirk Gibson had the other in Game 1 of the 1988 World Series.)

“Well, I just went nuts,” Bregman said. “I lost my voice, honestly, out there. I was screaming. I wanted to go give him a hug like right after he hit it but he still had to go run the bases. The place was on fire tonight. The fans were unbelievable. It was so awesome to have a packed house here. The energy was flowing. We felt it.”

   For most of Game 1, it was a matter of grinding along, squeezing out a run here, another there. Cutting off a Seattle rally here, another there.

“It’s like a heavyweight fight,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said. “You’re going to get punched. It’s how you respond in those moments, and that’s a tough one. Today I thought we had it in hand. You got to give them credit. Certainly they have been in this spot many times before and you don’t quit.”

   Dusty Baker managed this one beautifully. He used every position player on his roster to keep his team in the game. He also used four relievers after Justin Verlander was kicked around for six runs in four innings.

   In 32 previous postseason appearances, Verlander had allowed that many runs just once, way back in 2006.

   The thing that made this one so sweet was how the Astros had to keep coming back. Alvarez doubled in two runs in the third to get the Astros within two at 4-2.

   The Mariners promptly scored two more in the top of the fourth to make it 6-2. When Eugenio Suarez homered in the top of the seventh to make it 7-3, it seemed like a killer blow against a Seattle team with a bullpen that had been lights out the last two months of the season.

   Only it wasn’t. Bregman’s two-run homer off Andres Munoz had the Astros at 7-5 entering the ninth. Munoz hadn’t allowed a home run since June 10. The Astros rally began in the ninth when Seattle closer Paul Sewald hit pinch hitter David Hensley with a pitch. Altuve struck out, but Jeremy Pena single to put the tying runs on base.

“I would hate not to point out the two huge at-bats right before (Alvarez),” Bregman said. “Hensley, (the) guy got here in September, not scared, goes up there against one of the better relievers in all of baseball and puts together a great at-bat. And then Peña, as well. Gets down in the count 1-2, laces a slider up the middle to give Yordan that opportunity. It’s what this team does in the postseason. We try and pass the torch to the next guy and fortunate enough we did that today.”

Servais went for one of his starters, Ray, to get the final out. Instead, Alvarez walloped a fastball 438 feet into the upper deck in right field, setting off a wild celebration. At 116.7 mph off the bat, it was the hardest-hit home run of his career.

   The Astros have been here before and done this kind of thing before. But to all those players and coaches dancing around home plate mobbing Alvarez, it looked like the first time. That’s the heart of a champion. Which is what these Astros have proven over and over they have.

   “They know that we’re a team that never gives up,” Alvarez said when asked about the Mariners. “So just being able to get that hit right there was one of the most special moments of my career.”

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