Ariel Miranda pitches well but the relievers falter. Houston moved past the Mariners into second place in the American League West.

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The Mariners got more than they could have hoped for from starter Ariel Miranda, who was called up from Tacoma to start Tuesday against Houston.

But the Mariners got more than they wanted from Astros starter and nemesis Lance McCullers — and less than they needed from their own bullpen — and it added up to a 4-1 loss to Houston at Safeco Field.

The key blow came in the sixth inning when Dan Altavilla entered in relief of Miranda. He allowed a leadoff walk to Evan Gattis, then a long homer to Brian McCann to break a 1-1 tie, and soon after the Astros had evened the series at a game apiece.

Wednesday

Houston @ Mariners, 7:10 p.m., ROOT

Houston (11-7), which had beaten the Mariners (9-6) in six straight games before losing the series opener, moved past Seattle into second place in the American League West.

Miranda did everything the Mariners had hoped for, keeping his team in the game by allowing one run in five innings.

But the star of this game was McCullers, who kept the Mariners completely off balance and threw one of the best games of his big-league career, which began in 2015.

He entered with a 7.71 ERA but found a cure against the team he has had the most success against. He has always confounded the Mariners with his breaking ball, entering with a 5-2 record and a 2.96 ERA against the Mariners — his most wins against any team.

He added to that total, allowing just one hit and one walk in seven innings while striking out a career-high-tying 11.

“Obviously, the story of the night was McCullers,” said Mariners manager Scott Servais. “He threw the ball extremely well and had a good breaking ball as he always does and he added a changeup. … And the command he had kept us off balance all night.”

The only hit McCullers allowed was a long one. Robinson Cano gave the Mariners a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first inning with a line drive just into the seats in right-center field for his first home run of the season. It was the 302nd homer of Cano’s career, tying him with Rogers Hornsby for second-most for a primarily second baseman (Jeff Kent leads with 377).

“Robbie was seeing the ball good tonight, and he probably had the best swings of anybody,” Servais said.

But there wasn’t much happening on offense for Seattle, which was outhit 9-3.

Meanwhile, Miranda kept working out of trouble, but his best escape act might have come in the second inning. Houston had scored the tying run and had the bases loaded with one out. But just when the game was on the verge of getting away from Miranda, he struck out Jake Marisnick and George Springer to end the inning.

“I thought Ariel really competed and he kept the ball in the ballpark,” Servais said of Miranda, who allowed 37 home runs last season. “They had some traffic out there, and he made some pitches to get out of it.

“It was about what we were looking for, to keep us in the game through five innings. He did a really nice job and competed well.”

Miranda said he just wanted to be aggressive and keep the ball low in the zone and said he thought he did a good job.

But on a night when the Mariners struggled to even put the ball in play, and when Altavilla had “the first hiccup of the season” according to Servais, it all was for naught.

Seattle has scored four runs in the past three games, but center fielder Dee Gordon, who was 0 for 4, is not concerned at all.

“Come on, you think great hitters like Robinson Cano, Nelson Cruz, Kyle Seager and Mitch Haniger aren’t going to hit?” he said. “It’s going to happen in a 162-game season. It’s just part of the grind.”