Larry Stone: Can Mariners Defy History and Come Back From Devastating Loss to Astros?


HOUSTON — The Mariners made dark history Tuesday, and that's an ominous development, indeed.

The two-out home run by Houston's Yordan Alvarez was the most impactful, game-changing at-bat in MLB postseason history. That might sound like hyperbole, but Kirk Gibson's epic home run for the Dodgers in the 1988 World Series was the only other one to end a postseason game with two outs and his team trailing.

Dating to the first World Series in 1903, no one had done so in the postseason with their team trailing by more than one run. No one had changed his team's Win Probability more — from 91% for the Mariners, according to Statcast, before Alvarez's at-bat to 100% for the Astros afterward.

Here's the most ominous part: No matter how much of a sunshine spin the Mariners were putting forth Tuesday night and again Wednesday, modern baseball history reveals something else. Once teams are hit in the solar plexus with a loss as sudden and devastating as Tuesday's — and they're rare — it's really, really hard to bounce back.

The Mariners, mind you, believe they have the team and the mindset to defy human nature and do just that.

Here's what Jarred Kelenic said Wednesday about the Mariners' ability to wash away the loss and plow ahead Thursday in Game 2 and beyond:

"We're not really tripping. It's baseball. Yeah, it sucks. But the good teams, they turn the page. It happens. Made a good swing, and unfortunately we lost. But you look at the positives. Like, we played an unbelievable baseball game from start to finish. That gives us confidence going into [Thursday] for sure. That's how we're looking at it. Yeah, it sucks we lost, but we're just as ready to go tomorrow as we were yesterday."

Manager Scott Servais said much the same thing after dissecting his eye-raising decision to go with Robbie Ray to face Alvarez with the game on the line.

"Anybody that's watched us all year long knows how resilient this group is. We've had our backs against the wall, and it's one game. Five-game series are not won with one game. OK? It certainly helps. It puts you in a better position, there's no question about it. But we'll come back out [Thursday]. We'll play a good game. Again, very confident of that. I know the makeup of this club as good as anybody, and feel very strongly about it."

Yet I can counter with numerous examples of postseason teams that had victories snatched from them in the most stunning and heartbreaking fashion imaginable — many of which I covered in person. I don't mean your run-of-the-mill rally from behind to take a victory. I'm talking those epic games and comebacks that will be discussed and relived for perpetuity, as this one is sure to be.

In most cases, the team on the shellshocked end of the equation was not able to recover.

Take the aforementioned Gibson home run in Game 1 of the 1988 World Series. The heavily favored A's, who had their relief ace Dennis Eckersley one out from closing out the win, never quite recovered. They went down in five games.

Two years earlier, the Angels had been one out from their first World Series appearance in club history, leading the Red Sox 5-2 in the ninth inning of Game 5, before Dave Henderson's two-run homer pulled Boston into the lead. The Angels tied it in the bottom of the ninth but lost it in the 11th, an absolutely devastating defeat. The Red Sox went on to win the next two games against the demoralized Angels to win the pennant.

Of course, probably the most famous example of all happened the next week, when it was the Red Sox who were victimized by the Mets' comeback from two runs down in the 10th inning of Game 6 while one out (actually, one strike) from their first World Series victory since 1918. The Mets walked it off, famously, when Mookie Wilson's grounder went through Bill Buckner's leg. They rode that momentum to an 8-5 win in Game 7 to deny the Red Sox their title yet again.

There are copious other examples, not all of which I will list here. When the Cubs (managed by Dusty Baker, the current Astros skipper) blew a 3-0 lead in the eighth inning and lost the "Bartman" game in 2003 that would have given them their first pennant since 1945, they lost again the next day, too, as the Marlins wrapped up the pennant. When Baker's Giants, leading 5-0 in the seventh inning of Game 6 of the 2002 World Series, nine outs from the title, lost 6-5, they lost the next night, too, 4-1, as the Angels took their first (and only) championship. When the 2011 Texas Rangers, the only other team besides the 1986 Red Sox to be one strike from winning the World Series — twice, in the ninth and 10th innings — and then lost, they dropped Game 7 the next day to St. Louis.

The most prominent counter example (besides another one close to home I'll mention in bit) involves Carlton Fisk's famous home run in the 1975 World Series that he waved fair in the 12th inning of Game 6 to end what many believe is the greatest postseason game ever played. However demoralized they might have been by that Red Sox victory, the Reds came back to win Game 7 and wrap up the first of their two consecutive World Series titles.

Of course, that was the mighty Big Red Machine, not an easy team to emulate. The Mariners can look back to 1995, when they absorbed a gut-wrenching loss to the Yankees in Game 2 of the ALDS. After a Ken Griffey Jr. homer in the top of the 12th gave them a one-run lead, the Yankees' Ruben Sierra homered with two outs in the bottom of the inning to tie it, and Jim Leyritz walked it off with a two-run homer in the bottom of the 15th.

The Mariners, of course, came back from being down two games to none to win the series on Edgar Martinez's famous double in Game 5. But I'd maintain that the circumstances of Tuesday's defeat were more sudden, painful and deflating than the one in 1995. Yet it gives them an example to which they can cling.

The Mariners have their ace, Luis Castillo, going in Game 2 (as the 1995 Mariners did in Game 3 with Randy Johnson), which is always a nice way to get back on track.

But if the 2022 Mariners are to give one last display of the resiliency that has marked their team all year, they will have to defy and conquer the history they made Tuesday.