Culture / Sporting Life

The Mariners Expect to See the Astros Again in October — Abraham Toro and the Power of Inexplicable Confidence?

Beating the Astros (Even Rarely) is Enough to Make Some Almost Lose Their Mind

BY // 07.31.22

The music’s loud and the shouts are louder in the visitors clubhouse at Minute Maid Park. The Seattle Mariners are enjoying the rarest of things — a comeback win against the Houston Astros, the team that torments them the way the New York Times Saturday crossword puzzle would frustrate a first grader.

Abraham Toro, the former Astro spare part who brought the Houston bullpen the wonders of Kendall Graveman last July, hits a two out, two RBI single in the top of the ninth inning against Houston closer Ryan Pressly. The Mariners. . . win? Yes, by a 5-4 margin in a Saturday night game with more drama than a Real Housewives reunion.

The Mariners are still just 7-12 against the Astros this season after turning around and following up that win with a 3-2 10th inning loss on Sunday. But before reporters are let into the clubhouse after Seattle’s lone win in this four game series, the sounds of fun celebrating are apparent.

“We’re probably going to see these guys in October, so it’s going to be a good battle,” Toro says.

Yes, the Mariners — currently still 12 games behind the Astros in an American League West “race” that’s already essentially over — are banking on getting another chance to topple Houston in the playoffs. It’s not completely crazy. The Mariners are somewhat solidly in wildcard position, currently holding the fifth of the six playoff spots in the American League under the expanded postseason format. And they just added another potential ace in the Luis Castillo trade.

But the idea of Seattle ever getting that October Astros rematch is crazily optimistic. Even if you disregard the fact that the Mariners haven’t made the playoffs in 20 years.

The 67-36 Astros are seemingly cruising towards one of the two AL first round byes in Major League Baseball’s new playoff format. They’re only two games behind the 69-34 Yankees for the No. 1 seed and a whopping 13 games clear of the third place Minnesota Twins and old friend Carlos Correa.

Meanwhile, the 55-48 Mariners aren’t getting a bye. Meaning that even if they do make the playoffs, they’d have to win one of those fraught best-of-three first round series to even have the chance to get another crack at the Astros. Maybe.

Then again, that’s how good the Astros have been. Just beating them — especially after blowing a 3-0 lead to trail 4-3 and coming back to win in the ninth inning — is enough to almost make the Mariners lose their minds. Or at least a little perspective.

After all, that Saturday W may be the Mariners’ biggest win of the year. Or several years.

“We’ve had some crazy come from behind games, crazy games since I’ve been here,” Mariners manager Scott Servais says. “This one may be near the top of the list with all the stuff that happened and where we’re at.”

Servais’ team desperately needed something to convince everyone that they can hang with the Astros. That their fortunes really could change against Houston.

Abraham Toro does his best to deliver it.

“It’s a question they’ve been asking me: ‘Why do you do so good (against the Astros)?’ ” Toro says when I ask if this particular win means more. “Honestly, I don’t know. I try to stick to my approach and hit the ball hard.

“That’s all I want to do.”

The Abraham Toro Factor

Toro does way more against the Astros than anyone else. He’s hitting only .178 on the season (even with this game-winning hit) and long ago lost any kind of regular role with Seattle. But Toro somehow has 20 RBI in 24 games against the Astros.

He may be the one Mariner who actually looks forward to games against the team that always seems to bully them in the end.

“He’s had a few moments against his former team,” Servais says. “The one thing, Abraham Toro is very comfortable hitting in those spots. He doesn’t really change his approach. Looks for a good pitch to hit, lets it rip. He’s not looking to punch a single. He just lets it go.

“And good things happen for him. Good for him. It has been a struggle for him recently — really, most of the year. And big hit tonight. None bigger than that.”

Big enough to create a largely giddy Mariners locker room. Toro is only hitting against Pressly in the ninth inning because Seattle’s all-everything rookie Julio Rodriguez is hit in the hand by a Rafael Montero pitch the inning before.

Rodriguez ends up on the injured list without any reports of a break — and the Mariners can’t follow up that win with another. Instead, Yordan Alvarez walks it off with a simple single and gets mobbed by his happy teammates, particularly the guys who played with him in the minors like Chas McCormick. Veteran catcher Martin Maldonado tries to hit Alvarez with the traditional walkoff ice shower, but the contents of the cooler mostly accidentally hit Astros manager Dusty Baker instead. Which makes Alvarez break into a giant grin.

In reality, the Mariners are really the ones having ice dumped on their dreams though. The would be challengers are now 1-6 in their last seven games the AL West kings, the last seven games these teams will play in the regular season.

“I think we showed we’re ready to win,” Alvarez says after his Sunday walkoff.

“We’re probably going to see these guys in October, so it’s going to be a good battle.” — Abraham Toro on the Astros

Seattle Mariners rookie Julio Rodriguez is a dynamic force that gives the Mariners at least some future hope. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Seattle Mariners rookie Julio Rodriguez is a dynamic force that gives the Mariners at least some future hope. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)

A still noticeably upset Rodriguez briefly stops to tell reporters he’ll talk on Sunday (but not this night) as he stalks out of the locker room portion of the visitors clubhouse. If Rodriguez gets bad news on his X-ray and his hand’s broken, it’s hard to imagine the Mariners holding onto a playoff berth.

That is a worry for another day though. Toro gets the hit and the Mariners puff out their belief. See you in the playoffs? Yes, the Mariners are somehow counting on that. The Astros? They have earned the luxury to wait and see who else will really get there.

Seattle can go ahead and call when they actually make it.

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