Houston hits three solo home runs to hand Seattle its sixth consecutive defeat
The Houston Astros might play in a hitter-friendly stadium with a left-field wall short enough to even make Munenori Kawasaki a home-run hitter.
But their 220 homers — second most in the American League — aren’t just a product of Minute Maid Park. Of those homers, 92 have been hit on the road. Their power is very real. And it was very much on display Monday night in a 3-2 victory over the Mariners.
Safeco Field is far from a bandbox, and on a chilly late September night with the roof open and temperatures in the low 60s its dimensions seem grow even larger. Yet the Astros made it small.
Houston hitters belted three solo homers to provide all of the offense it needed.
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Seattle now has lost six consecutive games. And with pitchers who are making spot starts the next two games, the Mariners could easily add to that streak against an Astros team clinging to its spot as the second wild-card team in the American League. The Astros maintained their half-game lead over the Angels.
The most costly of the three homers allowed came in the seventh inning. The Mariners had just tied the score at 2-2 in the bottom of the sixth on Ketel Marte’s second homer of the season.
But the game didn’t stay knotted for long.
Right-hander Danny Farquhar was called on to pitch the seventh inning. And as has been the case far too often this season, he was victimized by one poor pitch. With two outs, Farquhar left a first-pitch curveball on the inside part of the plate to Chris Carter. The hulking Carter turned on the gift, blasting it to left for his 23rd homer and the decisive run.
“I’ve been in the game a long time,” Seattle manager Lloyd McClendon said. “I’ve found out that it’s never really the pitch, it’s the location.”
Farquhar agreed. Carter is not a breaking-ball hitter and he usually isn’t prone to swinging at a first-pitch breaking ball.
“It was a good idea,” Farquhar said. “The execution wasn’t there. Ideally you want that to be down and away and it was more down and in. He put it a good swing on it and kept it fair. It was the right pitch. I’d probably like to throw it down and away more.”
It’s been a brutal season for Farquhar. Last season, he appeared in 66 games, pitched 71 innings and allowed five homers. This year, he’s appeared in 41 games, pitched 47 innings and given up eight homers.
“You look at some outings and those pitches are getting popped up and at the end of the day it’s a good outing,” he said. “But giving up a home run in a tie game, every pitch is looked under a microscope. It wasn’t a good pitch.”
It was less than an ideal beginning for Seattle starter Roenis Elias, who worked six innings, giving up two runs on three hits with two walks and five strikeouts.
Elias gave up solo homers to George Springer (a booming shot over the wall in right-center) and Evan Gattis (a thunderous blast into the Mariners’ bullpen).
But the left-hander settled in after the first-inning homers, not allowing a runner to reach second base during the next five innings.
“He shut them down the next five innings and did a great job,” McClendon said.
Elias showed some poise and found his rhythm.
“The two home runs were not good,” Elias said through interpreter Fernando Alcala. “I thought they were good pitches. But my pace was slow. Once I picked it up, I got better.”
Seattle answered immediately in the bottom of the first against Houston starter Lance McCullers. Kyle Seager drew a one-out walk and later scored on Mark Trumbo’s run-scoring single through the left side to trim the disadvantage to 2-1.
McCullers then retired 12 of the next 13 batters, allowing just one hit.
After falling behind 3-2, Seattle had few chances to overcome the deficit. And a well-timed pickoff move from Tony Sipp to get James Jones leaning for an out in the seventh didn’t help.
“That was tough,” McClendon said. “(Sipp) is a guy that doesn’t have a great move and I think the kid was just a little anxious to do something positive and ended up hurting us.”
It was a different move that got Jones.
“I didn’t read his move,” he said. “It was different from his other pickoffs. … In that situation, I can’t get picked off like that.”
In the ninth, the Mariners’ three best hitters — Seager, Robinson Cano and Nelson Cruz — all struck out.