HOUSTON — Even if hasn’t been like the domination of past seasons, when trying beat the Astros in just one game felt like solving some complicated equation that didn’t have an answer, the frustration remains the same for the Mariners.
After holding their own against their much-disliked American League West rivals early in the season, playing the Astros even over the first 12 games at 6-6, which included a series win at Minute Maid Park, Houston has reasserted its dominance, beating, if not bullying, the Mariners at a familiar rate.
After snapping the Mariners’ 14-game winning streak in the first game out of the All-Star break en route to a three-game series sweep at T-Mobile Park, the Astros promptly ended the three-game winning streak the Mariners started after that series.
An erratic outing from talented young reliever Andres Munoz led to a pair of runs in the eighth inning of a tie game and an eventual 4-2 victory for Houston.
“Just another tight game with the Astros,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said. “The last four we’ve played have been very, very close.”
With Diego Castillo placed on the injured list with shoulder inflammation, Erik Swanson pitching three days in a row and the Mariners wanting to stay away from Paul Sewald unless there was a lead, Servais turned to Munoz to face the heart of the Astros order in the eighth inning of a 2-2 game.
The hard-throwing right-hander, who didn’t pitch in a game in 2020 and missed almost all of 2021 while recovering from Tommy John surgery, has been one of the Mariners’ best relievers. He came into the game having not allowed a run in his last 14 appearances (15 1/3 innings).
But pitching for the fourth time in five days, broken up by a rest day on Tuesday, Munoz struggled with his command. The problems started when he hit Yuli Gurriel, the first batter of the inning, with a 100-mph fastball on the arm.
“I feel like he can get out of the way of that, but if you want to take that, it doesn’t matter for me,” Munoz said.
Munoz came back to strike out the ever-dangerous Yordan Alvarez for the first out of the inning.
But Alex Bregman, who hit a two-run homer earlier in the game on a slider, stayed on a 2-2 slider from Munoz that didn’t get off the plate as intended. The result was a double off the fence in deep left-center to score the go-ahead run.
After Bregman moved to third on Kyle Tucker’s ground ball to third, Munoz uncorked a 101-mph fastball that almost hit Jeremy Pena and got past catcher Cal Raleigh for a wild pitch. Bregman raced home with an insurance run.
“I’ve been feeling good,” Munoz said. “Things just didn’t turn it out. It was one of those days.”
He wouldn’t use his heavy usage as an excuse.
“Obviously in a season like this, I feel tired, but it’s nothing that makes me lose my command,” he said. “It’s just one of those days that you don’t have your command.”
The Mariners got a quality start from Logan Gilbert, who pitched six innings, allowing two runs on five hits with two walks and eight strikeouts. The two runs allowed came in the first inning when he gave up a two-out double to Alvarez and left a 1-0 slider in the middle of the plate that Bregman deposited in the Crawford Boxes for a two-run homer.
Frustrated with the intent of the pitch, Gilbert changed his thinking.
“For that pitch, I just didn’t get it out there to that outside lane,” he said. “I was probably was a little defensive and kind of babied it in there for the sake of throwing a strike. After that, I just kind of tried to rip everything and not really care once it left my hand.”
That was all the Astros would muster against Gilbert, who worked the next five inning scoreless, allowing just one runner to reach scoring position during that span.
With the outing, Gilbert has thrown 123 innings in 21 starts this season, surpassing his total of 119 1/3 at the MLB level last season.
“I feel great right now,” he said. “I think I’m in a good place. I want to be one of those guys that goes 200 innings or something like that. It’s big goal for me. I want to take those innings and help the bullpen out when I can and help the team out and go deep in the games.”
The Mariners answered Houston’s two runs with a pair of runs in the third inning off Astros starter Jose Urquidy.
The Mariners loaded the bases with no outs and got a run from Ty France’s sacrifice fly to center and another run from Carlos Santana’s fielders-choice ground ball. While the outs were productive, the Mariners needed a hit to break the inning open.
It looked like Adam Frazier might have broken the 2-2 tie with two outs in the seventh inning with Raleigh on second. Frazier’s hard line drive to left field off former Mariners reliever Rafael Montero seemed like it would get over the head of left fielder Chas McCormick to score the run. But McCormick made a difficult leaping grab to rob Frazier of a double and the Mariners of a run.
The Mariners had one last chance in the ninth inning when J.P. Crawford singled with two outs off Ryan Pressly to bring Raleigh to the plate. But a perfect 3-2 slider from Pressly ended the game with a swinging strike three.