Shortstop Ketel Marte’s errant throw on what would have been an inning-ending double play touched off a tire-fire of a sixth inning that saw the Astros score six runs and turn Seattle’s 4-2 lead into an eventual 8-4 defeat.
HOUSTON — Flip it, or take it yourself? The debate about the proper choice may linger into an offseason that could begin sooner than the Mariners and their fans had hoped.
Shortstop Ketel Marte elected not to make the flip to second baseman Robinson Cano, and it proved costly. It wasn’t necessarily the wrong choice, but Marte didn’t finish the play.
His errant throw on what would have been an inning-ending double play touched off a tire fire of a sixth inning with the Astros scoring six runs, turning the Mariners’ 4-2 lead into a soul-crushing 8-4 loss.
Mariners @ Houston, 11:10 a.m., ROOT Sports
It was a play that needed to be made for a team with a minimal margin of error in its quest to get into the postseason.
“We didn’t finish off the inning,” manager Scott Servais said. “We didn’t make a few plays that probably should have been made. And we just didn’t overcome it.”
With the loss, the Mariners fell to 83-74. With Baltimore losing in Toronto, the Mariners could have moved within a game of the second wild-card spot. Instead, they remain two games back with five games to play with the Tigers a game head of them.
“Guys are disappointed, obviously,” Servais said. “We came in here and we knew we had to win this series and get some help. And we are still in the same boat. We can still win the series tomorrow and we still need some help. But we are not done yet. I keep saying that. Our team certainly believes it.
“Tomorrow is a big game. We know that. We have to show up. We’ve got to let this one go tonight. We have to come out with some piss and vinegar and get after it.”
The Mariners have dealt with some bad innings featuring regrettable defensive play this season, but what transpired in the sixth inning was a reminder of the seasonlong issues the team has overcome to even be in contention for a postseason spot.
Tuesday’s trouble started with Marte’s mistake. With one out and starter Felix Hernandez trying to work around back-to-back singles from Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa, Houston’s Yuli Gurriel hit a ground ball up the middle that Marte fielded about 10 feet from the second-base bag.
Cano — a multiple Gold Glove winning second baseman with a rocket arm — was standing near the base waiting for Marte to possibly flip him the ball so he could fire it to first. Instead, Marte opted to run to the base, then throw off balance to first. The throw was several feet wide of first baseman Adam Lind.
Not only did the Mariners not get the double play to end the inning, but Altuve wisely kept running and scored to cut the Mariners’ lead to 4-3.
“I think he had enough time to step on the bag,” Servais said. “He tried to put a little extra on the throw and it got off line.”
Despite being right there at second, Cano thought Marte made the right decision to tag the bag and throw instead of flipping it.
“I told him myself,” Cano said. “I think we were too close.”
Marte said he heard Cano at the last second, but wasn’t sure what he should have done, other than make the play.
“It was a big mistake,” he said. “It was a routine double play. I don’t think I was in a real position to throw to first base. It’s kind of hard. If I can make the double play, the game is going to continue with us leading 4-2.”
It’s a play that must be made by a big-league shortstop.
“That’s a play I can make,” he said. “I can make that play easy.”
Servais admitted things might have finished much different had the inning ended right there.
“That obviously hurt,” he said. “If we get the double play, it’s 4-2, we’re walking into the seventh inning and Felix’s pitch count is under control and we’re in great shape. We didn’t make the play.”
Hernandez also played a role in the oncoming avalanche, inexplicably walking the ultra-light-hitting Tony Kemp. It also moved Gurriel — the tying run — into scoring position. That loomed large when pinch-hitter Alex Bregman was able to flare a 1-2 curveball into left-center to plate the tying run.
Even with all that went wrong, the Mariners should have exited the sixth with the scored tied 4-4. Hernandez got the next batter, Jake Marisnick, to hit a check-swing ground ball to first base. But the routine out never came. Lind misplayed the ball, picked it up and headed for the bag while looking to flip the ball to a covering Hernandez.
But Hernandez was slow to the base, so Lind was forced to hustle and tag the base, but Marisnick’s head-first dive into first beat Lind by inches.
The Mariners asked for a replay, but the call stood.
“He’s out at first base,” Servais said. “I looked at the replay, but I’m not sure what they are looking at in New York.”
From there, Hernandez fell apart. George Springer hit a ground-rule double over the wall in right to score two for a 6-4 lead.
Marwin Gonzalez followed with a two-run single to center to end Hernandez’s night.
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