Houston gets to a host of Mariners pitchers and comes back to move a half-game ahead of Los Angeles for the second wild-card spot. Kyle Seager hit a three-run homer and Nelson Cruz smacked his 44th.
It’s one of what seems like an endless list of baseball’s unwritten rules.
Late in the season teams that are out of the playoff race are supposed to put out competent lineups when playing teams that are in the midst of it as a matter of fairness.
It’s something manager Lloyd McClendon believes in, mentioning the “integrity of the game.”
But with James Paxton, Taijuan Walker and Felix Hernandez all shut down for various reasons, the Mariners were forced to make an “all-staff” start on Wednesday, featuring myriad relievers working one- or two-inning stints in the series finale against the Astros. It was less than an ideal set up for the Angels and Twins, who are fighting it out with Houston for the second wild-card spot.
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In the end, that integrity of the game was maintained in the Mariners’ 7-6 loss to the Astros on Wednesday night.
Yes, Houston outlasted the eight relievers the Mariners used to traverse nine innings of baseball, starting with Tony Zych and ending with David Rollins. But it was far from an easy win for the Astros.
With Houston’s win and the Angels’ loss against the A’s, the Astros moved a half-game ahead for the second wild card, while the Twins remained 1½ games back.
The Mariners played it to the final out with a chance to win. It was a somewhat fitting ending for Seattle, considering the season has been filled with frustrating baserunning mistakes that have left McClendon rubbing his head in anger.
With one out in the bottom of the ninth and Houston closer Luke Gregerson on to protect the one-run lead, Robinson Cano singled for the fourth time in the game, putting the tying run on base. He was lifted for pinch-hitter James Jones.
After getting picked off on Monday night in a key situation, Jones made another major mistake on Franklin Gutierrez’s line drive to center field. The ball was caught, and he couldn’t retreat back to first in time. Carlos Gomez’s throw beat him by a foot to end the game.
“Just a bad read on my part,” Jones said. “Off the bat, I thought it was more to the gap when I read it. I just got too aggressive.”
McClendon saw the same thing.
“It’s just a bad read,” McClendon said. “One thing I won’t do is make excuses for players. He should have got back. It was an easy read. And he just went too far.”
The Mariners grabbed a 2-0 lead in the second inning against Astros starter Scott Kazmir. Cano hobbled/sprinted home on a wild pitch from Kazmir, and Jesus Sucre singled home Mark Trumbo.
Houston took the lead in the fifth inning. Luis Valbuena hit a solo homer to right field to lead off the inning off Mayckol Guaipe. Logan Kensing replaced Guaipe and gave up an RBI double to Jose Altuve (the run was charged to Guaipe) and a run-scoring single to George Springer to make it 3-2.
Seattle answered and then some in the bottom of the fifth, ending Kazmir’s night and giving him another dismal outing.
After Sucre and Ketel Marte each singled with one out, Kyle Seager ambushed the first pitch he saw from Kazmir — a hanging slider — crushing his career-high 26th homer for a 5-3 lead.
The Mariners weren’t finished. Nelson Cruz, who has looked fatigued in the last few games, showed plenty of strength in hammering a 2-0 fastball over the wall in right field for his 44th homer of the season to make it 6-3.
The 44 homers are the most by a Mariner since Ken Griffey Jr. hit 48 in 1999.
But pitcher No. 5 for the Mariners — J.C. Ramirez — couldn’t make a three-run lead last for even one out. Ramirez gave up a bunt single to Gomez, walked Valbeuna and then served up a booming three-run homer to Chris Carter that landed in the Mariners’ bullpen, possibly leaving a small crater and tying the score at 6.
That was it for Ramirez. Pitcher No. 6, Joe Beimel, retired the next three hitters to end the inning.
It was fitting that pitcher No. 7 — Danny Farquhar — entered the game in the seventh inning. Unfortunately for Farquhar, the Astros scored their seventh run off him. With one out, Evan Gattis hit a line drive to right field. Brad Miller, who was inserted into right field to start the inning, slipped as he charged on the ball. It rolled to the wall and the hulking Gattis lumbered around the bases for his 11th triple of the year.
Gattis trotted home minutes later when Colby Rasmus blooped a broken-bat single into shallow left field for a 7-6 lead.