By the time the Mariners kept some Major League Baseball history alive — hitting a home run in a 16th consecutive game to start the season — it seemed like a mere footnote.
“I’d kind of forgotten about the home-run thing by that point in the game,” Mariner manager Scott Servais said of a solo shot by backup catcher Tom Murphy leading off the ninth inning that kept alive a streak that has come to define the team’s unlikely and almost unfathomable start to the season.
Indeed, by then Servais had seen Houston hit two grand slams — the third time the Mariners have given up two in the same game — while seeing starter Wade LeBlanc leave with an ominous strained right oblique injury in the fifth inning, as well as Seattle trying to rally with one of the more unlikely runs anyone has seen scored in years.
Ultimately, the two slams proved too much for Seattle to overcome as the Astros held on for a 10-6 victory in front of 30,969 spectators at T-Mobile Park. Those fans had been hoping to see some more Mariner magic in the opening game of a series Seattle is hoping to show its hot start to the season isn’t just a two-week mirage. Seattle fell to 13-3, which is still tied with the 2002 team for the best start after 16 games in Mariner history.
“It was entertaining,” Servais said of a game that featured a combined 25 hits and four home runs, including the Houston slams by Jose Altuve in the sixth and Yuli Gurriel in the eighth.
It could be the injury to LeBlanc that might resonate the most from this night, though.
Servais was hoping to get LeBlanc through five innings.
But on the second-to-last of the 92 pitches he threw, LeBlanc felt a slight twinge in his side. On the next pitch to Tyler White, he felt it even more, and Murphy immediately called for the trainers.
“The last two pitches just didn’t feel right,” LeBlanc said.
An MRI on Saturday will show the extent of the damage but Servais said, “I would think Wade probably wouldn’t make his next start. … it certainly didn’t look good.” Options to replace LeBlanc in the rotation would likely include Justus Sheffield, who pitched Friday night in Tacoma, or Erik Swanson.
LeBlanc left with a 3-2 lead, with Seattle having taken a 3-0 lead after the second before LeBlanc allowed a two-run homer to George Springer in the third.
LeBlanc’s departure then left the game to a Seattle bullpen that has been surprisingly stout so far this season but on Friday night saw Shawn Armstrong and R.J. Alaniz — the former making his first appearance of the season and the latter his Major League debut — falter when it mattered most.
Altuve’s slam came a pitch after it looked for a second as if the Mariners might be out of the inning.
Robinson Chirinos led off the sixth with a hustling double and Josh Reddick followed with an infield single, putting runners on first and second with no outs.
Jake Marisnick then struck out looking at a 93-mph fastball.
The next batter, Springer, followed with a liner to second, and for a moment the ball — and a possible double play — was in Dee Gordon’s glove. Had he controlled it might have been able to get Marisnick creeping off first.
Instead, the ball went out of Gordon’s glove.
Gordon also at that point had no play at first and decided to fire to third try to get the force on Chirinos.
Initially, it appeared a success as Chirinos was called out by umpire Phil Cuzzi.
But Houston challenged the call and after a review, Chirinos was ruled safe (the crowd groaned in the realization of that fact as the replay was shown in the stadium).
The play was ruled a hit.
Getting Chironos wouldn’t have ended the inning — it would have only been the second out.
But maybe the delay affected Armstrong, who began the year on the injured list due to a left oblique strain.
Or maybe it was just Altuve being Altuve and the Astros seeming due to finally get a big hit with runners on — they had 16 hits on the night.
Whatever the case, Altuve hit the first pitch he saw from Armstrong — a slider estimated at 87.3 miles an hour — over the fence in left field (left fielder Domingo Santana hardly moved) to put the Astros up 6-3.
“Unfortunately out of the whole outing I think that was the only bad pitch that I threw and I threw it to the wrong hitter,” Armstrong said. “He’s really good up there, he’s really aggressive, and when you leave a ball middle-middle like that he’s going to make good contact on it in that situation.”
The Mariners then got a rather bizarre run to start the seventh, and then an error to score another to cut into Houston’s lead and put a spark into things.
With Gordon on second and one out, Mallex Smith struck out swinging on a 93-mile an hour fastball.
But the pitch flew past Chirinos’ glove with the ball then hitting off the shoulder of umpire Adam Hamari and bouncing to the backstop.
As Chirinos scrambled to try to find the ball, Gordon raced around third and didn’t hesitate to head home, beating the throw back from Chirinos to pitcher Brad Peacock to make it 6-4 with Hamari recovering just in time to signal Gordon was safe.
The official ruling was a wild pitch.
Smith then stole second and got to third when Peacock threw the ball away on a pickoff attempt.
Smith then scored on a grounder out by Santana to make it 6-5 heading into the eighth.
“That was pretty crazy,” Servais said.
Hopes for another unlikely comeback stayed alive as Alaniz — who had come on in the seventh — got the first two outs of the eighth.
But an Altuve single and then walks by Correa and Brantley loaded the bases.
Gurriel then hit a 91-mile an hour fastball 384 feet for what was Houston’s third homer of the game — Springer got the Astros’ first two runs of the game on a home run in the third.
“If we could have held them right there,” Servais said. “We just couldn’t get the third out.”