Outfielder Jake Marisnick wasn’t supposed to start in center field for Houston in the opening game of the American League Division Series on Thursday at Kauffman Stadium.
He didn’t know he’d play until manager A.J. Hinch pulled him into his office shortly after arriving at the ballpark, but Marisnick delivered a sterling night at the plate and make a possibly game-saving diving grab in the fifth inning of a 5-2 win.
Marisnick had been entrenched in manager A.J. Hinch’s lineup through the first four months, but his .235 batting average and .641 OPS prompted the Astros to scour the trade market for an upgrade.
Houston found Marisnick’s replacement in a July 30 trade with Milwaukee that returned Carlos Gomez as part of a six-player swap.
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“I’m just doing what I can to help the team win,” Marisnick said. “That’s the ultimate goal here is to win ballgames. When Gomez came over, I was excited to have him. He’s a good ballplayer.”
With Gomez hampered by an intercostal muscle strain since mid-September (and the Astros not facing elimination as they were in Tuesday’s AL Wild Card Game), Marisnick got the nod in center.
Marisnick sparked a two-out rally in the second inning, doubling off Yordano Ventura and brazenly scampering home on Jose Altuve’s flare to right field.
“I thought it was going to be close, but I wound up getting in there,” Marisnick said.
He added a seventh-inning single, but Marisnick’s biggest contribution was a diving stab on Alcides Escobar’s sinking line drive to center two innings earlier.
“It kind of froze me a little bit,” Marisnick said. “I think, if I get a better read, I don’t have to dive on it.”
The Royals had two runners on with one out. Colin McHugh, who pitched six innings around a 49-minute rain delay after the second frame, was teetering.
Marisnick’s catch helped Houston and McHugh, who got the win after tossing six innings around the rain delay and allowing only two runs on four hits with a walk and a strikeout, regain some footing and ultimately gain the series lead.
“These guys have been doing this all season,” McHugh said. “I try not to take it for granted, but … when balls are hit, I just expect them to make plays. They’ve come through in a lot of clutch situations for this year behind me. None bigger than today with Marisnick, for sure.”