SEATTLE — This was baseball in the long run perfect tense: Julio Rodríguez, the youngest and the perfect player on the Seattle Mariners, coming to the plate to save lots of the season. It needed to be Rodríguez, didn’t it? The phenom would propel them.
One game before, in Houston, Rodríguez had come to bat in the identical situation — one out to spare — and ripped a double. The Astros won, anyway, but that was in a traditional game. This was twice as excruciating: bottom of the 18th inning and still no runs for the house team.
Ten innings earlier, Rodríguez had smashed the toughest hit of the day, a 112 mile-an-hour laser off the left-field wall for a double. Even Jeremy Peña’s home run on Saturday, off Penn Murfee in the highest of the 18th, was not quite as forceful.
Nevertheless it was simpler, and Rodríguez couldn’t match it, punching a harmless flyout to center off Luis Garcia, ending the sport, 1-0, and sending the Astros to their sixth consecutive American League Championship Series.
Peña — who had two-out hits before each of Yordan Alvarez’s homers in Houston — has rewarded the Astros’ faith in giving him the shortstop job after letting Carlos Correa leave as a free agent.
“Boy, he’s been a godsend to us, especially since we lost Carlos, because this might have been a disastrous situation had he not performed the best way he has,” Astros Manager Dusty Baker said. “And he’s only recuperating.”
The Mariners consider they’re, too. Their 20-season playoff absence had been the longest energetic streak in baseball, they usually haven’t any plans to start out a latest one.
“I feel like that is just the start for all of us,” said Rodríguez, 21, who held his bat all of the approach to the bench after the ultimate out. “We’re definitely going to maintain on going and we’re going to be back.”
The fans here had waited so long to host the playoffs that, for some time, it seemed the baseball gods had granted them a game that might never end. It was the primary postseason game ever to be scoreless through 17 innings, and the Mariners had set a franchise record for strikeouts in a game, with 22.
Rodríguez whiffed 3 times, but in addition had the Mariners’ only extra-base hit and stolen base. The last three hitters of their lineup were 1 for 21 with no walks. The afternoon shadows didn’t help, and neither did the fans holding shoes on their heads for good luck (yes, it’s a thing here).
Nothing worked for the Mariners: not the navy-and-teal towels waving across T-Mobile Park; not a primary pitch from their former ace, Félix Hernández; not Macklemore exhorting the fans from a luxury suite; not Mike McCready of Pearl Jam performing the national anthem on electric guitar.
“As a Mariners fan, you may’t get into that scenario of, ‘Well, we’ll wait till next 12 months and see the way it goes,’” said McCready, after his morning soundcheck. “You get into that, and it’s defeatist psychology. I feel like that is going to be an important game. I’m nervous and I couldn’t sleep last night — but I’m excited, and I can’t wait. It’s big for us, ? It’s an enormous deal. We’ve had the Seahawks win the Super Bowl, the Sonics in ’79. So that you’re all the time hoping.”
The Mariners remain the one team within the majors that has never reached the World Series. In some ways they got here near an upset on this division series — as San Diego and Philadelphia pulled off within the National League — but two Alvarez homers made the difference in Houston, and the Astros’ pitchers took over in Seattle.
“We were right there,” Mariners reliever Paul Sewald said. “And you can tell on their faces that they were a bit bit shocked that we were able to play against them. We had not played well against them. We got Yordan’d the primary two days, and we got shadowed and their pitchers did an important job tonight. We’re millimeters from winning that series, 3-0.”
Sewald acknowledged that he could have pitched higher in Game 1, when he put two runners on base within the ninth before Robbie Ray allowed Alvarez’s game-winning blast. The Mariners did win a two-game playoff series in Toronto, but earned only one game at home.
“It’s loads higher to play at home than it’s to play on the road consistently, so I feel we’ll keep in mind that, we’ll remember this crowd,” Sewald said. “And we’ll keep in mind that in the midst of June, when things weren’t looking good, we still ended up here.”
The Mariners were 29-39 through June 19, but went 61-33 thereafter. Along the best way they traded for and signed a top starter, Luis Castillo; signed Rodríguez through at the least the tip of this decade (and possibly for much longer); and watched three more homegrown players — starters Logan Gilbert and George Kirby and catcher Cal Raleigh — change into high-impact contributors.
Jerry Dipoto, the Mariners’ president of baseball operations, went from locker to locker after the sport, sharing more smiles than sadness with the team. The players, Dipoto said, went so far as they may against a rival that sets the usual.
“They’re the perfect team in our league,” Dipoto said of the Astros. “I feel we’re a young team that stood up and showed those who we’re for real. It wasn’t only a gimmick. We’ve got good, young players, we’ve got a ton of talent, and our young guys showed up.”
He added: “They probably need a while simply to rest and realize what they did. They overcame loads. They broke a couple-of-decade drought. They engaged a city in baseball that actually hasn’t been engaged in this fashion in an extended time.”
The fans stayed engaged, even after the tip. When the Mariners lost to Cleveland within the 1995 A.L.C.S., the fans roared within the Kingdome, reluctant to depart before a final salute to the primary playoff team in franchise history. On Saturday, they reprised the act for a minute or two, standing and chanting, “Let’s go Mariners!”, while the Astros celebrated below.
Among the players had left for the clubhouse by then, but third baseman Eugenio Suárez, who led the Mariners in homers in his first season here, climbed from the dugout to return the gesture.
“I never thought that was going to occur, but I’ve got that on my mind for the remaining of my profession, for the remaining of my life,” Suárez said. “They cheered us from the start of the season, and today they never left the stands. I just wanted to provide a bit little bit of my heart to them, because they really deserve it.”
The Mariners couldn’t give their fans one other playoff game, or perhaps a single run on Saturday. But they gave them something to savor: a latest starting.
“Today our season ended,” Suárez said. “But we’re going home proud.”