Yordan Alvarez hits HR 3-pointer as Astros win Game 1

HOUSTON — Yordan Alvarez broke a game-ending three-run homer with two outs in the ninth inning against Robbie Ray, undoing the Seattle Mariners’ strategy of using a Cy Young Award winner in a rare relief role and blast the Houston Astros to an 8-7 victory Tuesday in their playoff opener.

Trailing the entire game after a poor start from Justin Verlander, the AL West champion Astros overtook rookie star Julio Rodriguez and the wild-card Mariners at the end to start their best-of-five division streak.

Houston was down 7-5 when rookie hitter David Hensley reached an out in the ninth as Seattle closer Paul Sewald grazed his jersey with a pitch.

Sewald hit Jose Altuve before Jeremy Pena lace up a single to center field to chase Sewald down.

Mariners manager Scott Servais then made the bold move to bring in Ray, who started Saturday in Toronto in the AL Wild Card Series, for a southpaw vs. southpaw matchup with Alvarez. Ray, who won the Cy Young last year with Toronto, had made just six relief appearances in his career and had never earned a professional stoppage.

Alvarez, who hit 37 home runs in the regular season, sent Ray’s second pitch deep into the right field seats to spark a wild party with his parents in the stands.

“I think it’s one of the most special moments of my career,” Alvarez said. “Having them there and just for the city of Houston, they know we’re a team that never gives up, so just being able to get that shot there was one of the most special moments of his career.”

His outburst was the second home run in playoff history by a team through its Finals, according to ESPN Stats & Information research. The other was Kirk Gibson’s home run against Dennis Eckersley to lead the Los Angeles Dodgers to a Game 1 win over the Oakland Athletics in the 1988 World Series.

The home run had an exit speed of 116.7 mph, the fourth fastest of 546 home runs in the Statcast era and the highest ever in the playoffs.

Servais said the decision to use Ray was something they thought about.

“It was something that was happening in the series where we were at, looking at our rotation, where we were going to go, and talking with Robbie about using him out of the bullpen as a ball, so say, for this type of scenario,” he said. “You know, bringing a southpaw against Alvarez, although Alvarez is one of the best hitters in the league.

“But we talked about it on the show. We talked about it before the game today. I watched it in the seventh inning and said, ‘Hey, this could happen. So that was the plan.”

Houston skipper Dusty Baker, who managed Servais with the Giants, declined to guess his former player.

“If he gets it out then it looks great…next time Robbie Ray might win, but today we won,” Baker said.

The Mariners jumped on Verlander for six runs in just four innings to build a 6-2 lead early. Yuli Gurriel hit a solo homer in the fourth for Houston before Eugenio Suarez’s solo shot in the seventh extended Seattle’s lead to 7-3.

A two-run homer from Alex Bregman off Andres Munoz cut the lead to 7-5 in the eighth inning to set up the dramatic end.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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