HOUSTON — When the situation had finally reached the point of embarrassment in the third inning, an escalation that quickly worsened from bad to awful to ‘Dear God, please make it stop,’ two things became very clear.
Felix Hernandez didn’t want to be on that mound for one pitch more.
And Seattle manager Scott Servais didn’t want to watch him try to throw another pitch, which probably would have been walloped for a double or misplayed by one of his fielders.
The erstwhile Mariners ace couldn’t hand the ball to Servais fast enough as he left the mound, ending a gruesome pasting that has to make him question his uncertain future beyond this season.
By that point, a defeat was guaranteed, meaning the Mariners would not win a game this season at Minute Maid Park. The only drama would be how bad they’d get pummeled. The result was a demoralizing 21-1 beatdown by Houston, perhaps a fitting result in what was their 11th consecutive defeat against Houston this season.
It was Seattle’s worst loss of the season and basically the worst defeat in franchise history. The 20-run margin eclipsed the previous largest margin of defeat, which was 17 runs in a 20-3 loss to the Tigers on April 17, 1993. The 21 runs allowed were a season high and the most since allowing 22 runs to the Red Sox on Aug. 15, 2015. The 22 hits and 13 extra-base hits allowed also were season highs.
Houston set a club record with 11 doubles. Every player in the Astros starting lineup recorded a hit as well as two substitutes who entered the game with it being a blowout. Six players had multiple hits, including two three-hit games and Yordan Alvarez’s four-hit, three-double, six-RBI performance. It was the second time this season the Astros have beat a team by 20 runs. They beat the Orioles 23-2 on Aug. 10.
“We got hammered,” Servais said. “What else can you say? We made a costly error early and then it got away from us after that. Just not a good effort.”
The Mariners record against the Astros this season is 1-16. They went 0-10 in Minute Maid.
To be fair, the Astros have bullied their American League West foes this season. Their season record in division games:
- Mariners: 16-1
- A’s: 10-5
- Angels: 9-3
- Rangers: 11-6
That’s a combined 46-15 record. Houston is 27-2 against AL West teams at home. Seattle’s worst record against a divisional opponent in a season was 2-17 against the A’s in 2006. This is the most victories for Houston in a season against an opponent. The Astros have outscored Seattle 117-62 on the season and 77-25 in the 10 games at Minute Maid.
Seattle still has to play the Astros two more times — Sept. 24-25 — in its final homestand of the season.
This didn’t figure to be a nostalgic stop on the Hernandez farewell tour with the Mariners. Given the firepower of the Astros offense and Hernandez’s downward decline in command, stuff and effectiveness that started about five years ago, there was a chance it could get ugly.
But even this was unexpected.
Hernandez worked a 1-2-3 first inning, retiring George Springer, Jose Altuve and Alex Bregman in order, which isn’t easy to do. In the second, he struck out Alvarez and got Aledmys Diaz to ground out.
Even after he walked Kyle Tucker and allowed a double to Abraham Toro, it appeared Hernandez would escape the inning unscathed when he got slow-footed catcher Martin Maldonado to hit a routine ground ball to shortstop. But Dee Gordon, who was making the rare start at shortstop, misplayed the sure out for an error, allowing two runs to score.
Hernandez’s next pitch was crushed by Jake Marisnick for a two-run homer.
After a terse meeting with Servais, Hernandez got Springer to fly out to end the inning. But four unearned runs had scored and with Gerrit Cole starting for the Astros, the Mariners were done. A four-run deficit against Cole would be almost impossible to overcome. Seattle would later wish it was only a four-run deficit.
Hernandez returned for the third inning and wouldn’t record an out while facing seven batters.
- Altuve double
- Bregman hit by a pitch
- Alvarez two-run double
- Diaz run-scoring double
- Tucker run-scoring double
- Toro walk
- Maldonado run-scoring double
- Hernandez removed from the game.
“I was fine till the third,” Hernandez said. “I fell behind a lot of times. I had to throw a strike and they hit the ball pretty hard. I was leaving the ball in the middle of the plate. That’s a good lineup. You can’t miss.”
Hernandez’s replacement, Erik Swanson, got Marisnick to pop out for the first out of the inning. But Springer hammered a three-run homer to right field. Later, with two outs, Alvarez hit his second double of the inning, driving in another run.
When Swanson finally struck out Tucker to end the inning, the Mariners trailed 13-0. Houston sent 14 batters to the plate in the inning. They scored nine runs, racked up eight hits, including a homer and six doubles. Seven of the runs were charged to Hernandez.
Hernandez was credited with two innings pitched, 11 runs allowed (seven earned) on seven hits with two walks and a strikeout. His stuff was mediocre, his command was wandering and his intent was forgettable. This isn’t a game that will help him find a place to pitch next season.
“I haven’t been this frustrated in a while,” he said. “These last two starts I’ve been grinding and grinding. I just have to keep doing my thing and we’ll see what happens next. It means a lot to me to go out and compete the way I should compete every fifth day.”
Down 13-0, the Mariners flirted with the possibility of being no-hit for the third time this season. Cole was perfect through three innings, striking out six of the nine batters he faced. But Shed Long provided Seattle’s only hit and run, leading off the fourth with an opposite-field homer to left.
“I knew it was a short porch that way, but there was still a question in my mind,” Long said.
Cole, who was celebrating his 29th birthday, worked eight innings, allowing the one run and one hit, while striking out 15 and walking none. He improved to 16-5. He’s struck out 281 batters this season, a career high. He has won his past 12 decisions and struck out 10 or more hitters in his past five outings. He became just the third pitcher to strike out 14 or more batters in three consecutive starts.
The Astros continued to blast the Mariners bullpen, scoring three runs over two innings against Wade LeBlanc and five off Reggie McClain in the seventh inning.