The fourth pitch
The even matchups that predominate in postseason play usually mean that a pivotal decision point comes in the game’s late innings. But that’s not always the case.
During Friday’s 4-0 Seattle victory over the Toronto Blue Jays at Rogers Centre, the decision point occurred only four pitches into the game.
The pitch, thrown by Jays’ starter Alex Manoah, set off a chain reaction of events that buried the home team Jays in a 4-0 hole from which they never would recover.
Manoah was the obvious choice of manager John Schneider’s to take the mound for Game 1. He had made 31 starts, compiling a 16-7 record in nearly 200 innings. Manoah had not given up more than two runs in any start since mid-August.
The leadoff matchup of Manoah vs. Seattle rookie sensation Julio Rodriguez was destined to be a trend-setter Manoah’s first pitch was a 100 mph message-sender: a four-seamer near the corner that Rodriguez admired as it sped by.
Rodriguez followed by fouling off two sinkers. That was a major hole for Rodriguez, who batted just .109 this season from an 0-2 count.
Then came the game-turner, another four-seam fastball high and tight that was designed to back Rodriguez off the plate. Instead it hit the batter, rescuing him from the 0-2 hole and putting Manoah in a challenging early position. After a ground ball out, Manoah missed to Eugenio Suarez with a fastball, then grooved another fastball that Suarez sent into the right-center gap for a run-producing double.
With a full count on Cal Raleigh, Manoah delivered a major mistake, a high sinker that Raleigh sent into the right field seats for a 3-0 lead.
Leads of 3-0 are not always definitive in postseason, but this one was. Behind starter Luis Castillo, the Mariners shut out the Jays 4-0.