It seems the Astros and Mariners had a secret agreement tonight to experiment with new rules for baseball. Instead of the winning team being the one with the most runners that crossed home plate like in normal baseball, it seemed like the object of tonight’s game was to see who could leave the most runners standing on the bases. If those were the new rules, this would have been a high scoring affair, eventually won by the Astros, 11-8.
It was a game of wasted opportunities by both teams. Or were they really wasted opportunities, or rather, was that the plan all along? All three runs in the game were accounted for by solo home runs. Neither team scored a runner in scoring position all night. In fact, no base runner scored. Coincidence?
The Astros left runners stranded at second in the first and second innings, and Mariner rookie Aaron Nola scored a traditional run in the third with his first career home run.
In the fourth the Mariners looked set to expand their lead in runners crossing the plate, but instead opted for runners left on base, getting runners on second and third with one out. Tim Beckham then hit a hard grounder to third baseman Yuli Gurriel, who made the quick throw home to just beat J. P Crawford at home. It was close. Have a look.
Tom Murphy then grounded out, stranding two Mariners runners and getting the Mariners within one in the race to leave the most runners on base.
The Mariners succeeded in not advancing a runner to home again in the seventh inning, this time getting Josh James to allow a single, a walk, and a hit by pitch to load the bases. Rather than hitting the runners home, Crawford grounded out meekly to James, ensuring that the Mariners would take a slight lead in runners left on base.
But the Astros are no slouches in the left on base department, and in their half of the seventh they also succeeded in adding three more left on base, taking the LOBster lead back from the Mariners. It took ingenious base running on the part of Myles Straw to ensure that the Astros would strand three without scoring a run.
After stealing second, Myles Straw, one of the fastest runners in baseball, looked set to score on a hard hit Jake Marisnick single. But in order to stay on base, Straw skipped right over the third base bag, and had to return to third rather than go home. Here’s the sequence of stolen base, base hit, and missed bag.
After Straw ingeniously kept himself at third base, George Springer loaded the bases with a walk. Then Jose Altuve and Alex Bregman gave the Astros back the lead in LOBsters, first by Altuve grounding out on an 3-0 count, and then by Bregman executing a timely strike out.
In order to keep this left on base contest going, Josh Reddick hit a home run in the eighth to tie the traditional score and set the stage for an extra inning game.
The gambit worked, as the Astros again took the lead in LOBsters in the bottom of the ninth, as Jose Altuve and Alex Bregman stranded two more men on base with an Altuve flyout and another Bregman strikeout.
Although Dee Gordon in the tenth tried to get the Mariners back into the game with most most men stranded with a lead-off single, it was not enough, and in the bottom of the tenth Yuli Gurriel decided to end the game and give the Astros the win both in runners crossing the plate and in runners left on base with his majestic walk-off homer.
It was a remarkable double win for the Astros. It’s not easy to score the most runs AND leave all eleven runners stranded AND fail to score all eight runners who were in scoring position. A masterpiece of strategery.
All kidding aside. Hurrah to the Astros for pulling out a tough victory, and kudos to Yuli Gurriel for winning the game in the tenth inning with a shot that reminded us all of that crucial Game 5 bomb he had to tie the score against Clayton Kershaw and the Dodgers.
And kudos to Wade Miley, who pitched six tough innings, allowing only the one run on the the homer by Nola. He was vintage, getting twelve ground outs. Nor can we forget the bullpen, Josh James, Ryan Pressly, Roberto Osuna and Will Harris, who held the Mariners scoreless after Miley’s departure.
A loss tonight would have allowed the Rangers to within 3.5 games of the lead, which somehow seems a much more precarious lead than 4.5.
Tomorrow Justin Verlander takes in Yusei Kikuchi. Game time 7:15 CDT
Box scores and videos here.