Jeremy Peña and Houston Astros just continued. Zero inning after zero inning as day turned to night in front of a frenzied Seattle crowd.
Eventually they found a way. That’s how the Astros reached the AL Championship Series for the sixth year in a row.
It’s just what they do.
Peña homered in the 18th inning and the Astros beat the Mariners 1-0 on Saturday to sweep their AL Division Series in three games.
“These guys know not to panic,” Houston manager Dusty Baker said. “They don’t get too excited. They don’t sink too much. It means a lot.”
Peña drove a slider from Penn Murphy into deep left-center for the rookie’s first homer of the playoffs, plating the only run of an afternoon full of dominant pitching and empty trips to the plate.
The 18 innings tied for the longest game in playoff history, and at six hours, 22 minutes was the third-longest.
Boring for everyone? Undoubtedly. But exciting for the Astros.
“Man, that was a long game. But you still have to settle in, try to put together good at-bats,” Peña said. “I was just trying to stay inside the baseball, drove it into the gap.”
Spoiling Seattle for its first home playoff appearance since 2001, Houston continued its ALCS streak that began with the 2017 World Series title. Next up is the New York Yankees or Cleveland Guardians in Game 1 of the ALCS on Wednesday.
While Jordan Alvarez hit big in the first two games in Houston, it was Peña who set the table for Alvarez’s opportunities. In the sixth hour of Game 3, Peña delivered another heartbreaking blow to the Mariners that ended their brief return to the postseason.
“We all know we belong here now, and we all know what it takes to get here and get past this point,” Seattle shortstop JP Crawford said.
After 21 years, Seattle fans welcomed playoff baseball to T-Mobile Park. They got their money and then some.
The previous three playoff games had gone to the 18th inning, one of which involved Houston. The Astros beat the Atlanta Braves 7-6 in 18 innings in Game 4 of the 2005 NLDS on Chris Burke’s walk-off homer.
Game 2 of the 2014 NLDS between San Francisco and Washington and Game 3 of the 2018 World Series between Los Angeles and Boston also went 18 innings.
But there were streaks in those games. This one was unable to give anything until Peña swung for a 3-2 serve.
“I feel like in the playoffs you can’t try to do too much, especially the later the game gets,” Peña said.
Seattle’s best scoring moment was Julio Rodriguez’s breakout shot off the wall in the eighth. In the 13th and 17th, the Mariners had fielding positions, but they couldn’t get the key shot with two outs against Houston’s superb bullpen.
Unlike regular season baseball, there is no automatic runner when playoff games go into extra innings.
“They did a great job. They played a great series. They beat us,” Seattle manager Scott Cerve said. “In my opinion, and I think in the minds of our players, there is a break here or there in this series, it could have been completely different. But in the end, they got big hits in each of the games, and they ended up winning them.”
Luis Garcia worked five innings for the win. The Astros bullpen allowed five hits and struck out 15 after starter Lance McCullers Jr.’s six innings.
“Overall, the guys are doing a really good job and I’m really proud of them. … I was just trying to help,” Garcia said.
Seattle’s bullpen was nearly as good. After rookie George Kirby threw seven innings, the Mariners’ nine relievers combined for 11 innings with five hits.
The teams combined to strike out 42 times, surpassing the postseason record of 39 set by the Patrons and Rays last week in their AL wild-card matchup, which went scoreless through 15 innings before the home run Oscar Gonzalez was sent to the ALDS by Cleveland.
“Their pitching was phenomenal today as well. We kept putting zero there and kept putting zero there and you think we’re going to be able to break through because we have so many times,” Servais said. “That’s what we’re used to playing, those tight games and finding a way, but there were no mistakes in this game today.”
Houston advanced despite a poor performance from Jose Altuve, who went 0-for-8 in Game 3 for the first time in his career and went 16 hitless in the series.
Altuve joined Xander Bogarts in Game 3 of the 2018 World Series against the Dodgers as the only players to go 0-for-8 or worse in a postseason game. But Houston’s other pieces have come on, none more so than its young shortstop, who took over a major role after Carlos Correa left in free agency.
Peña’s homer was his only hit in eight at-bats. But it was his contributions in the first two games that helped Houston travel to Seattle with a 2-0 series lead.
“On a team like this, with the pitching we have, with the defense we have, we never give up,” Altuve said. “We came out and played every inning like it was our last inning. Giving it everything we’ve got until Jeremy came along and hit the big homer.”