From 14 consecutive wins to back-to-back losses, the day-to-day variance of baseball makes the latter so unique and the former typical. Obviously, the Mariners were going to lose a game at some point in the second “half” of the 2022 season and the winning streak would end.

That they’ve lost their first two games to the Astros out of the All-Star break in front of a sold-out crowd on Friday night and 43,197 on Saturday at T-Mobile Park is a disappointing start to be certain but not necessarily unexpected.

Playing without Julio Rodriguez for the second straight game due to left wrist soreness, the Mariners, a team with something more than postseason aspirations, endured a playoff-level pitching performance from Astros starter Justin Verlander and couldn’t respond in a 3-1 loss.

With the two losses, the Mariners had their streak of eight consecutive winning series snapped as well. The last time they lost a series came June 16-19 when they lost four of five to the Angels to fall to 29-39 and the season was thought to be lost.

“We haven’t lost a series in a while,” manager Scott Servais said. “We’ve played so well coming in and we’ve been getting all those big hits in those big moments. It just hasn’t happened the last couple of nights. That’s a good team over there. It’s why they have one of the best records in the American League. We have been going very well coming into this series, but they’ve shut us down the last couple of days.”

More

Advertising

Any overly-optimistic hopes of chasing down the Astros in the American League West, a lottery-ticket goal, ended with the two losses. Houston is 12 games ahead of Seattle in the division.

Verlander pitched seven innings, allowing one run on four hits with two walks and nine strikeouts to improve to 13-3. He outdueled Seattle starter Logan Gilbert, who looked refreshed coming out of the All-Star break, pitching six innings and allowing two runs on five hits with a walk and eight strikeouts.

Over his past five starts, Verlander is 5-0 with a 0.97 ERA having allowed just three earned runs in 34 innings pitched with 36 strikeouts and six walks.

“We weren’t able to do much at all against Verlander,” Servais said. “He was on top of his game. That’s why he’s having the season.”

He was on top of the strike zone. Using a fastball that was hitting 99 mph late in the game and locating at the very top of the strike zone, Verlander had the Mariners overwhelmed at times.

“It just doesn’t get any more difficult in our league to hit than what he was throwing up there today,” Servais said. “His ability to locate the ball, the fastball at the top of the zone, one after another, he did not miss all day. He’s got a ton of ride on his fastball. It’s too close oftentimes to lay off and it’s a really tough pitch to hit.”

Advertising

Not bad for a 39-year-old veteran coming off of Tommy John surgery.

“It doesn’t make sense,” Gilbert said. ” I don’t know how he’s doing it, but it’s pretty incredible.”

The last time Verlander pitched in T-Mobile Park, on May 27, he allowed six runs on 10 hits, including homers from Rodriguez, Kyle Lewis, Ty France and Taylor Trammell.

There would be no repeat of that showing.

He held the Mariners scoreless for the first six innings allowing just two base runners — a leadoff single to J.P. Crawford to start his outing and an infield single to Adam Frazier in the second inning.

He was on a stretch of 17 consecutive batters retired when he ran into his only trouble in the outing.

With one out in the seventh inning and the Astros leading 2-0, Verlander hung a curveball to Carlos Santana that was turned into a solo homer. The Mariners threatened to take the lead as Eugenio Suarez worked a walk and Frazier singled and stole second base. With runners on second and third and one out, Verlander struck out Cal Raleigh on an elevated fastball at 99 mph, pitched around the pinch-hitting Lewis for a walk and struck out Sam Haggerty swinging on another 99-mph fastball up in the zone to end the inning.

Advertising

“What he did in the seventh was pretty incredible,” Gilbert said. “He just started bumping 99.”

Verlander hadn’t hit 99 mph in a game since 2018. Per David Adler of MLB.com, he and Billy Wagner in 2010 are the only pitchers over age 39 to throw a pitch 99 mph or higher in the pitch-tracking era.

“Since my surgery, I’ve been creeping back and feeling better and better,” Verlander told Houston reporters. “I feel like I haven’t been able to let it go like that in a long time. I feel like the younger versions of myself. I was really hoping for 100.”

Gilbert struck out the first four batters of the game and looked dominant. He ran into trouble in the fourth inning giving up back-to-back RBI doubles to Kyle Tucker and Yuli Gurriel.

“Just a couple mistakes,” he said. “That curveball (to Gurriel) was arm side. I think the fastball (to Tucker) was just middle. A bad time to have a couple of mistakes. But that’s just how it goes.”

BOX SCORE