Astros hold off Mariners after bizarre Hector Neris-Julio Rodríguez confrontation

The Houston Astros will enter their final series of the season with a 1.5-game lead over the Seattle Mariners in the AL wild-card race after defeating them 8-3 on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, the Rangers held serve with a 5-0 win over the Los Angeles Angels, preserving a 2.5-game lead over the Astros for the AL West title.

The three teams, who have been neck-and-neck for supremacy in MLB’s most competitive division for more than a month, will enter their final series of the season with the West still at stake. The Rangers will face the Mariners in a four-game series in Seattle, while the Astros will travel to face an Arizona Diamondbacks team still fighting its own battle in the NL wild-card race.

  1. Rangers: 89-69

  2. Astros: 87-72, 2.5 GB

  3. Mariners: 85-73, 4.0 GB

  1. Rays: 97-62, +10.0 games

  2. Blue Jays: 87-71 +0.5 games

  3. Astros: 87-72

  4. Mariners: 85-73, 1.5 GB

The division tiebreakers form a perfect triangle. The Mariners hold the advantage over the Astros with a 9-4 record against them, the Astros have the edge against the Rangers via a 9-4 record, and the Rangers get the nod over the Mariners thanks to their 8-1 record.

By virtue of that tiebreaker and the four-game gap between the Rangers and Mariners, there is a lone scenario remaining in which Seattle wins the West: a four-game sweep of the Rangers, with the Astros winning two, and only two, games against the D-Backs.

In that case, the Mariners would win a three-team tiebreaker.

Houston Astros relief pitcher Hector Neris (50) gestures to Seattle Mariners' Julio Rodríguez (44) after striking Rodríguez out to end the sixth inning of a baseball game Wednesday, Sept. 27, 2023, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Lindsey Wasson)

The Astros’ win over the Mariners got chippy, thanks to Hector Neris. (AP Photo/Lindsey Wasson) (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

The Mariners could have moved into playoff position with a win Wednesday and seemed tantalizingly close to doing so at times. J.P. Crawford opened the bottom of the first inning with a leadoff homer to take a 1-0 lead, which was lost in a four-run fourth inning for the Astros on homers by Yordan Álvarez and Mauricio Dubon.

The Mariners cut the lead to one run on a bases-loaded single by Eugenio Suarez in the bottom of the fourth, but the Astros put the game away with more scoring in the seventh.

The most bizarre moment of the game, however, came in the bottom of the sixth when Astros reliever Hector Neris struck out Rodríguez and then aggressively bore down on the young outfielder. Rodríguez didn’t appreciate the treatment, and soon the two were being lead away from each other while the dugouts and bullpens cleared.

It was a very strange moment, in a series that has already seen a baseball thrown from the stands at Mariners pitcher George Kirby.

The Mariners broadcast later noted Neris and Rodríguez had something of a history, with the reigning AL Rookie of the Year hitting a two-run homer off the reliever in a past chippy game. He and Neris got into during another game when Rodríguez attempted to speak to Astros pitcher Framber Valdez about a plunking.

On the Rangers’ side of things, Texas scored early against the Angels while starting pitcher Dane Dunning threw seven scoreless innings. Aroldis Chapman and José Leclerc combined to finish off the shutout, leaving Texas only needing to win two of four games against the Mariners to seal the division, even if the Astros sweep the D-Backs.