Jeremy Pena hits 18th-inning homer as Astros sweep Mariner

Game 3 of the American League Division Series between the top-seeded Houston Astros and Seattle Mariners, hosting their first postseason game since 2001, featured epic pitching, exemplary defense and, finally, in the 18th inning, the only hit that mattered.

Rookie Jeremy Pena's solo home run off Mariners reliever Penn Murfee provided the lone tally in Houston's 1-0 victory that cinched a spot in the AL Championship Series for the sixth consecutive season. Never before had a postseason game gone scoreless for as long as Game 3.

Its 18 innings tied a postseason record with three other games, its 6-hour, 22-minute run time the third longest ever. The 42 strikeouts recorded by both teams set a record. The four combined walks and no errors exemplified that this wasn't just a battle of offensive ineptitude but rather a clinic in run prevention.

While Houston took all three games in the best-of-5 series, comeback victories in Games 1 and 2 showed that the Mariners were no fluke. They were simply not good enough to overcome Houston's deep pitching staff and dangerous lineup.

In the game's first half, the story centered around a pair of great starting pitching performances, by Seattle rookie George Kirby and Houston right-hander Lance McCullers Jr., who was battling an illness.

 Kirby threw seven brilliant shutout innings; McCullers nearly matched him with six. Each ceded to a bullpen that ranks among the best in baseball, something both showed as arm after arm entered and exited the game without allowing a run.

Pena, the 25-year-old rookie who took over at shortstop upon the free agent departure of Carlos Correa, had provided the necessary run in the top of the inning. He entered the at-bat 0-for-7. He left it 1-for-8 after Murfee hung a slider, and Peña pummeled it out to center field.

Houston's offense, the best in the AL this season, managed just 11 hits in 63 at-bats. Seattle's offense, which lived by the home run this season, was 7-for-60. The Mariners struck out 22 times and drew three walks. The Astros walked just once against 20 punchouts.

The defense was clean, none better than when Mariners star rookie Julio Rodriguez tracked down a Yuli Gurriel shot into the right-center-field gap in the 16th to save a pair of runs.