Marco Gonzales allowed eight earned runs in three innings as the Mariners fell to 72-56 on the season.
For a team that has mostly struggled to get its bats going since July 1, the Mariners offense showed signs of life during Wednesday’s rubber game against the Houston Astros, turning a 9-1 deficit after a suboptimal three-inning outing from Marco Gonzales into a 9-7 game in the sixth.
Despite getting within striking distance of Houston, the Mariners couldn’t muster any additional late-game magic to even things up, ultimately dropping their second straight game and the series to the Astros in a 10-7 defeat.
The Mariners (72-56), which went 2-4 during the current homestand, are now 17-25 since July 4 and remain 4 1/2 games back of the A’s, which also lost on Wednesday, for the second wild-card spot, while the Astros regain first place in the American League West.
“We got behind the eight ball early,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said after the game. “Our guys didn’t quit, they kept battling. We put some pressure on them. We got ourselves back in the game.”
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With the club’s offense slowly (though somewhat inconsistently) picking up its pace, its pitching — which had been the team’s saving grace in the first half — is struggling the most it has all season. Seattle’s hopes of earning the franchise’s first postseason bid since 2001 are seemingly slipping further and further away each day.
“Unfortunately, we haven’t put it together. Last night we pitched OK, didn’t swing it. Today we swung the bats better, but the pitching struggled out of the gate,” Servais said. “To beat the good teams, they’re not going to fold. You got to play a complete game and do it on both sides of the ball.”
After going 0-3 with a 7.94 ERA in his previous three starts, Gonzales skipped his scheduled appearance on Sunday, allowing him three extra days of rest once he returned to the mound on Wednesday. But his consistency and effectiveness faltered, which, combined with the Astros’ aggressive at-bats, led to a five-run fourth inning and an overall rough game back.
“I don’t think Marco threw the ball that badly,” Servais said. “But they put some balls in play, they got some hits, hit a few balls hard. Just wasn’t a clean outing for him.”
Though the Astros mostly made soft contact with the ball, their hitting was effective enough to get 11 hits off of Gonzales, one shy of his career high, as well as eight runs, the most he’s given up in his career.
“They were very aggressive against him,” Servais said. “They were on a lot of what he offered today.”
Gonzales said he felt fresh coming in with the extra rest, even though his stuff wasn’t as sharp as usual.
“They had a good game plan,” Gonzales said. “They mixed up their approach from at-bat to at-bat, and I had trouble keeping them off balance.”
The trouble for the Gonzales and the Mariners started early. Houston’s Tyler White plated Carlos Correa on a RBI-triple in the first, after which White scored on a wild pitch from Gonzales to give the Astros a two-run lead before the Mariners had even stepped up to the plate. Martin Maldonado added to Houston’s lead in the next inning when he got a ball past Jean Segura to score Yuli Gurriel.
The real damage to the Mariners, however, came in the fourth, when Gonzales allowed six consecutive hits that led to four runs before recording an out. A single from Jose Altuve, which put the Astros up 7-0, ended the day for Gonzales, making it his shortest outing since April 9. Nick Rumbelow, who was recalled from Tacoma prior to the game, replaced Gonzales on the mound, and Correa’s sacrifice fly on the next at-bat plated another run charged to Gonzales.
Though the Mariners were able to eke out some runs with a solo home run from Nelson Cruz in the fourth and a RBI double from Robinson Cano in the fifth, any sort of comeback still seemed highly unlikely, especially given how uninspiring Seattle’s offense has been as of late. But the club managed to string together a five-run sixth inning of its own to make things interesting later in the game. Four consecutive batters got on base — Cruz with a leadoff double, Denard Span with a base hit, Ryon Healy with an RBI single, and Ben Gamel when he was hit by a pitch. Mike Zunino and Dee Gordon each brought in a run on sacrifice flies, and Mitch Haniger tightened the score even more with a two-run homer.
The Mariners twice had the tying run at the plate in the eighth but Gamel grounded into a double play and Gordon grounded into a force out to end the inning. Seattle went down 1-2-3 in both the seventh and the ninth innings.
The Mariners will have Thursday off before kicking off a three-city road trip on Friday, when they’ll face the Arizona Diamondbacks.