HOUSTON – A 4-0 lead with no outs in the first inning should inspire a level of confidence.
And a 7-0 advantage after two innings, well, that should provide some certainty of victory for even the worst team in Major League Baseball.
While the Mariners have had an expectedly forgettable season that will have them finish some 40-plus games behind their opponent Thursday night, they aren’t the worst team in baseball or the second worst, but definitely in the bottom third.
So a victory should have been likely with such a prodigious start, right? No, not considering the venue – Minute Maid Park – and the team that plays there, the Houston Astros. There have been too many occasions since the Astros became an American League West foe where the Mariners found defeat in situations where victory was the obvious expectation.
Seattle added yet another chapter to that never-ending saga of failure, squandering all that early success by being forced into extra innings and managing to blow one more lead for good measure. Michael Brantley’s towering, two-run homer to right-center off Matt Wisler in the bottom of the 13th gave Houston an 11-9 walkoff win in 4 hours, 40 minutes.
“It was another wild game here,” manager Scott Servais said.
The comeback from a seven-run deficit was the Astros’ largest of the season. And the largest comeback in team history since July 18, 1994, when they came back from an 11-0 deficit. Houston is 24-4 in its past 28 home games.
It was the Astros’ eighth straight win over the Mariners this season. Seattle has won one just one game in 14 meetings this season.
“It’s very hard to put those guys away,” said third baseman Kyle Seager. “That’s why they’ve been a championship team because that’s the way they are. It’s what they’ve done. It’s a good lineup and they grind. We jump out to a lead and they keep battling and chip and chip, there’s not much of a letdown from top to bottom.”
The Mariners’ beleaguered bullpen, which had already coughed up a three-run lead in the eighth inning, got brilliant performances from three right-handed relievers in the late innings to keep the Astros offense from scoring the game-winning run. But the tying run?
Dan Altavilla struck out the side in the bottom of the ninth. Matt Magill worked a 1-2-3 inning with a two strikeouts in the 10th. But Zac Grotz, who struck out Jose Altuve, Brantley and Alex Bregman in the 12th inning, couldn’t keep the Astros from re-tying the game after Seager gave Seattle a 9-8 lead with his second homer of the game — a solo blast into the Crawford Boxes in left field.
Asked to close out the win, Grotz issued a one-out walk to Yuli Gurriel on a 3-2 pitch that the Mariners felt was a strike. However, the always unpredictable Joe West was behind the plate and his wandering strike zone for that batter said it was a ball.
“He struck out the first four guys he faced and he had the fifth guy struck out but we didn’t get that call,” Servais said.
The Astros brought in ultra-speedy Myles Straw to pinch run. With two outs, he scored easily on Kyle Tucker’s single on a 1-2 splitfinger to right field to re-tie the game at 9-9.
“Lot of good things tonight, but not enough to get that final strike, which is all we needed,” Servais said.
Yes, the Mariners had all those early leads and lost. The Astros never led until they won the game. The Mariners even went into the eighth inning leading 8-5 thanks to Austin Nola’s second homer of the night, a solo shot that got a much-needed run back.
But the oft-blamed bullpen, now fortified with extra arms because of September roster expansion, faltered. Right-hander Anthony Bass, who had retired the last two hitters of the seventh inning, started the eighth and got a quick out. But he hit light-hitting catcher Robinson Chirinos with a pitch and then walked Josh Reddick, the No. 9 hitter, to start the problems.
The diminutive Mariners nemesis that is All-Star second baseman Altuve smoked a ball into the gap in right-center for a triple that scored both runners and trimmed the lead to 8-7. Brantley followed with a fly ball to left field that was just deep enough to allow Altuve to tag up and race home, sliding in ahead of the throw from Keon Broxton.
“A hit by pitch and a walk leads into other stuff,” Servais said.
The chance for a rare win in Houston was coughed up again.
The Mariners abused former teammate Wade Miley, sending him to his worst and shortest start of the season. Dylan Moore led off the game with a double to left, Dee Gordon followed with a single to center and Nola started a monster night with a double off the wall in left to score both runners.
Seager stepped to the plate and hammered a ball for a two-run homer and a 4-0 lead. It was his 20th homer of the season.
He becomes the latest player in Mariners history to hit at least 20 home runs in eight seasons, joining Ken Griffey Jr., Jay Buhner and Edgar Martinez. But Seager is the first player in franchise history to hit 20-plus homers in eight consecutive seasons. Martinez and Buhner had seven consecutive seasons of 20 or more homers.
“It’s definitely something I’m extremely proud of,” Seager said. “I didn’t know that. Everyone wants to be consistent, but I’m proud of that this year with having missed some time. It’s pretty cool.”
Since 2012 only four players have hit at least 20 homers in each of the last eight seasons – Seager, Edwin Encarnacion, Nelson Cruz and Mike Trout.
For Seager the most impressive aspect of the 20 homers this season is that they’ve come in just 84 games. He missed the first two months of the season after hand surgery for an injury he suffered during spring training. After struggling in his return to find his timing and making unneeded adjustments, Seager simplified his swing and is on a hitting tear. Of the 20 homers, 14 of them have come in the past 39 games.
Miley would face just two more batters. He gave up a single to Tom Murphy and then walked Daniel Vogelbach. Miley was removed from the game having thrown 31 pitches and not recording an out while allowing five runs on five hits.
In a sign of things to come, Marco Gonzales was handed a 5-0 lead before throwing a pitch and walked the first batter he faced. It was the start of a pitch-filled grind where his command ranged from spotty to absent as evidenced by five walks in his outing. He managed to overcome that leadoff walk, aided by a slick 3-6-3 double play started and finished by Nola at first base. It was the only inning where Gonzales would face the minimum three batters.
Seattle pushed the lead to 7-0 in the top of the second when Nola clobbered a two-run homer off the signage just below the railroad tracks high above left field.
A fielding error by shortstop Moore to start the second inning allowed the leadoff runner to get on and eventually score on a wild pitch from Gonzales.
Still the Mariners had a six-run lead. But two things happened: they stopped scoring runs and the Astros started scoring runs.
Gonzales gave up two more runs in the third on a two-run double from Bregman. Gonzales did get through five innings to put himself in line for the win. With his pitch count under 90, Servais let Gonzales go out for the sixth inning. He wouldn’t finish it. Hyped prospect Tucker, who replaced an injured George Springer in the lineup, smacked a solo homer to right field for his first hit of the season to trim the lead to 7-4. Reddick collected his third hit of the night with a one-out solo homer to right that ended Gonzales’ night. He finished with 5 1/3 innings pitched, five runs (four earned) allowed on seven hits and not a single strikeout to offset the five walks. Austin Adams entered and ended the inning retiring two of the next three hitters.
“I was just not getting myself into good counts and was having to make perfect pitches,” Gonzales said. “These guys will make you pay in hitters counts. I was trying to be a little too fine.”
The Mariners have decided to push back the next start for young left-hander Justus Sheffield by a few days. His original turn was supposed to come Sunday in the series finale against the Astros. Instead, the Mariners are expected to make a bullpen start with Sheffield starting either Tuesday or Wednesday against the Reds on the upcoming homestand.
Outfielder Mitch Haniger is still dealing with discomfort in his lower back. The plan is for Haniger to have another doctor examine his back in the next couple of days for a second opinion.