Even before COVID-19 protocols forced four starters — second baseman Jose Altuve, third baseman Alex Bregman, designated hitter Yordan Alvarez and catcher Martin Maldonado — and backup infielder Robel Garcia to the injured list just before the series, the 2021 version of the Houston Astros was seemingly diminished.
Justin Verlander was hurt. George Springer had left in free agency. And even the aging Josh Reddick, who just signed with the Diamondbacks, was a missed presence.
Though players such as Alex De Goti, Chas McCormick, Ronnie Dawson and Taylor Jones were largely unknown before this weekend and not part of the trash-can-hitting antics of past Astros teams, they were guilty by association in the eyes of Mariners fans at T-Mobile Park, intent on voicing their displeasure with the division rival during at every at-bat, play and throw to first base. They received boos and jeers for the sins of the past, while the remaining actual perpetrators like Carlos Correa and Yuli Gurriel received it with extra fury and disdain.
“It’s been very noticeable this series,” manager Scott Servais said. “It’s certainly their right. We’re entertainment, and they have a right to voice their opinions. I’ve enjoyed it.”
Regardless of who was on the field or in the lineup for Houston through the course of the weekend series, Sunday’s 7-2 victory — another in which the Mariners trailed and rallied — meant a series win over the Astros. And that’s something that hasn’t happened a lot over the past few seasons.
“Awesome series,” Servais said. “Our guys, after getting shut out (Saturday) night by (Zack) Greinke, I thought they really responded today.”
Does it represent a shift in what has been a largely lopsided series since the Astros rose to prominence? Not really. The Mariners still have 16 more games with Houston this season, including four games at Minute Maid Park to close out the upcoming road trip. Presumably those four starters — all of whom have given the Mariners serious problems in the past — will return, making Houston significantly more formidable.
Still, a series win over a team that’s consistently handled the Mariners for an extended period can’t be overlooked.
“Oh, it’s huge,” right fielder Mitch Haniger said. “A series win against anybody is what you want, but definitely over the Astros. They are a perennial team that usually finish first or second in the division it seems like every year. So it’s big. Going out and taking two of three from them at home. It sets the tone.”
In 2020, the Mariners were 3-7 against Houston in the shortened season. In 2019, the stacked Astros team that lost to the Nationals in the World Series went 18-1 against the Mariners. In 2018, the Mariners finished with a 10-9 record against the Astros but a 3-7 record in Seattle.
Trailing 2-1 in the fifth inning, the Mariners exploded for four runs to take a lead they wouldn’t relinquish.
It would take few guesses to figure out those responsible for the outburst of offense. The top of the Mariners order, which was stymied by Greinke on Saturday night in a 1-0 loss, erased the memories of a 1-for-12 showing.
After failing to reach base for the first time this season Saturday night and having a 13-game hitting streak snapped, Haniger started the possibility of new streaks Sunday. With one out and runners on first and second, Haniger smashed a ball to deep center field off Astros starter Jake Odorizzi. Astros center fielder Myles Straw got a late jump on the ball, not recognizing how hard it was hit or dealing with the bright sun on a perfect, cloudless day. He hesitated just long enough to make a tough play almost impossible. His retreating attempt at an over-the-shoulder catch failed with the ball bouncing off his glove. It was a two-run triple for the Mariners and a 3-2 lead. It ended Odorizzi’s outing.
“I knew I hit it well,” Haniger said. “I was just hoping it would get down, and luckily it did.”
The Astros went to lefty Brooks Raley to face Ty France. That move didn’t work. Raley misplaced a 0-1 cutter, and France crushed it into the visitor’s bullpen for a two-run homer and a 5-2 lead.
“I don’t know what their game plan was there, but I guess I’m thankful they did,” he said. “I don’t know the reasoning behind it. But it worked in our favor.”
The top of the order duo of Haniger and France delivered again in the seventh. Haniger slashed a double into the left-center gap that scored a hustling Tom Murphy from first base. France quickly scored Haniger on a double down the left-field line.
“Greinke had his ‘A’ game last night,” France said. “I think we might have had one, two hits off him. So that’s tough. But to come back today, especially a day game, and to bounce back the way we did, that was huge for our club. Hopefully we can keep that rolling.”
Perhaps the biggest negative of the game was seeing starter Nick Margevicius exit the game with an athletic trainer after four pitches in the fifth inning. Servais said he was dealing with arm fatigue.
“It’s just arm fatigue, and he just didn’t feel right,” Servais said. “When he went out for his warm-up pitches that inning, he just didn’t look right with how the ball was coming out. And after the first couple pitches, it clearly wasn’t right. He got checked out by the doctor. They think he’s gonna be OK. No issues medically. We’ll give him a couple days off and then go from there.”
Servais anticipates that Margevicius will make his next start in the rotation.
He was replaced by Ljay Newsome, who pitched two innings to get his first big-league win. If you throw in the three innings from the combination of Casey Sadler, Anthony Misiewicz, Rafael Montero and Drew Steckenrider, Seattle’s bullpen pitched five scoreless innings without allowing a hit.
The Astros registered just one hit — Aledmys Diaz’s ground-rule, RBI double on a fly ball to left-center that Jose Marmolejos lost in the sun.