SEATTLE -- The Astros weren’t too tired to party. Far from it. The music was pumping in the visiting clubhouse at T-Mobile Park, the smell of champagne filled the air and a group of bewildered, exhausted and excited players tried to digest and appreciate what they had just witnessed.
In perhaps the greatest pitched game in franchise history, eight Astros pitchers combined to throw 18 scoreless innings and were rewarded when rookie shortstop Jeremy Peña delivered the biggest hit of his young career. Peña walloped a leadoff homer in the 18th inning to send Houston to a thrilling 1-0 win over the Mariners in an epic Game 3 of the American League Division Series on Saturday.
Peña took over this year at shortstop for Carlos Correa, who was one of the most clutch playoff performers in franchise history, and produced his own signature playoff moment. After setting up slugger Yordan Alvarez’s go-ahead homers with singles in Games 1 and 2 in Houston, Peña rocketed a 3-2 pitch from reliever Penn Murfee that sailed a Statcast-projected 415 feet into the smoky air and over the wall in the 18th.
“It’s a moment I’ll remember for the rest of my life,” Peña said.
Peña pumped his fist as he rounded the bases, and the Astros poured over the railing and onto the warning track in front of the dugout. Peña is the third rookie in postseason history to homer in extra innings -- and the second in 2022, after the Guardians’ Oscar Gonzalez did so in Game 2 of the AL Wild Card Series vs. the Rays.
“Jeremy’s unfazed,” third baseman Alex Bregman said. “He’s a stud. He’s a superstar. Unbelievable teammate, unbelievable guy.”
The Astros still needed three more outs, though, and Luis Garcia -- a starter who hadn’t pitched since Oct. 2 -- pitched a 1-2-3 18th to complete five scoreless innings and cap an unforgettable night. Lance McCullers Jr. overcame an illness and threw six scoreless innings in his start, and Héctor Neris, Rafael Montero, Ryan Pressly, Bryan Abreu, Ryne Stanek, Hunter Brown and Garcia combined for 12 scoreless innings.
“Boy, our pitching staff did a heck of a job here,” said Astros manager Dusty Baker, who moved four wins away from playing for his elusive World Series title. “Theirs did a heck of a job, especially tonight on us, because it's hard to hold somebody scoreless for that long on both sides. This is some team. These guys, they grind and grind and grind and sooner or later we broke through."
After 6 hours, 22 minutes, nearly 500 total pitches and a whirlwind of emotions, the Astros will get three much-needed days off before facing either the Guardians or the Yankees in Game 1 of the AL Championship Series, with the contest set for Wednesday in Houston. The Astros and the Braves (eight in a row) are the only teams to reach the LCS in six consecutive postseasons.
“There’s no complacency on this team,” said Astros pitcher Justin Verlander, who will start Game 1 of the ALCS. “Nobody is ever satisfied. That comes from our leadership guys that have been around here since we’ve been doing this. The first names that pop up in my mind are Bregman, [Jose] Altuve and McCullers, and the guys that come in after those guys, you can’t help but match their effort. The way that those guys prepare and come every day to win a baseball game, as a new player in this organization, you can’t help but to do the same thing.”
The 18-inning affair is tied for the longest playoff game in Major League history, including Game 4 of the 2005 NLDS, which Chris Burke capped with a walk-off homer for the Astros against the Braves.
Burke, Peña and Gonzalez: The only three rookies to homer in extras in the postseason.
“There’s just pure joy all around,” said Altuve, who shrugged off an 0-for-8 performance at the plate. “We’re very happy. I think every single guy in the clubhouse deserves this. We’ve been working hard, and we’re here.”
For as dominant as the Astros pitched, the plucky Mariners hung with them throughout a tantalizing game. The Astros went 0-for-11 with runners in scoring position, stranding the bases loaded in the fourth and with runners at second and third in the ninth. Seattle held Houston without a hit from the 10th through the 15th innings.
“Their pitching was phenomenal today as well,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said. “We kept putting the zero up there and kept putting the zero up there, and you think we're going to be able to break through because we have so many times. It's kind of what we're accustomed to, playing those tight games and finding a way. But there were no errors made in that game today. I mean, that is a big league game, with the pitching and defense that was fired out there. We just weren't able to put anything together.”