Jose Altuve drives in the winning run in the 10th as the Mariners manage just one run with runners in scoring position in a 3-2 loss.
HOUSTON — They had their chances. In a stretch of games where it’s felt like the Mariners have wasted scoring opportunity after scoring opportunity with their inability to get a hit with runners on base, Thursday night at Minute Maid Park somehow was worse for them.
They had 11 hits and two walks and yet somehow produced just two runs. But when you come into the game hitting .205 with runners in scoring position — second worst in the American League behind only the Rangers — that premise doesn’t seem quite so far-fetched.
The Mariners were defeated 3-2 in 10 innings on Jose Altuve’s RBI walkoff single off reliever Domonic Leone that scored Marwin Gonzalez from second. The loss snapped a three-game winning streak and dropped them to 10-12.
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“It was just a bad pitch,” Leone said. “It was middle-middle and he did what he was supposed to do. Just bad execution.”
But the game was lost before Leone’s final pitch to Altuve. This was lost on just bad execution by the hitters.
Seattle had four hits in 13 at-bats with runners in scoring position, but only one of them scored — Kyle Seager’s RBI single to left field made it 2-0 in the top of the first. The other hits with runner in scoring position only moved runners up a base and not across the plate.
The Mariners had the leadoff runner reach base in six of the 10 innings. They stranded seven base runners and were fortunate that number wasn’t bigger because they hit into three double plays.
Seattle had the go-ahead run on third base in the eighth and ninth and couldn’t advance them 90 feet.
“We didn’t play very well tonight,” manager Lloyd McClendon said. “That is one of those games that looked extremely close and that’s because we kept it close. We had opportunities to certainly put some runs on the board and we didn’t do it. Those things happen. You have to move on.”
But it isn’t easy to move on when the problem has lingered for the better part of the last 10 games. McClendon believes his offense will get better with runners on base and in scoring position. But there have only been glimpses of that. Seattle had runners on in each of the first five innings against Astros’ starter Scott Feldman, but never did anything after the first inning.
The last best chance at a run came in the top of the ninth. Logan Morrison led off the inning with a single to right field off left-hander Tony Sipp. McClendon had Brad Miller sacrifice bunt Morrison to second. Morrison advanced to third when Sipp’s first pitch to Dustin Ackley got by catcher Jason Castro.
But Ackley couldn’t cash in on the opportunity or even put the ball in play. Sipp struck him out swinging. With right-hander Mike Zunino up next, Astros manager A.J. Hinch called on All-Star set-up man Pat Neshek. The side-arming right-hander got Zunino to pop up to end the Mariners’ threat.
McClendon was in an interesting situation with the Ackley at-bat. Sipp is tough on lefties and Ackley doesn’t hit lefties well. But if McClendon went to Justin Ruggiano as a pinch-hitter, Hinch would have gone to Neshek a hitter earlier to face him. It came down to which matchup McClendon favored.
“I liked the Ackley matchup better,” McClendon said. “I thought he had a better chance to hit the softer-throwing Sipp.”
The additions of Neshek and closer Luke Gregerson, who got the win after pitching a scoreless top of the 10th, have brought validity to a once awful bullpen.
In the search for positives, James Paxton gave Seattle his most complete outing of the season.
The big left-hander worked a season-high seven innings, giving up two runs on five hits with two walks and seven strikeouts in just 103 pitches.
“He threw the ball just like I thought he would throw,” McClendon said. “He was very, very good. He commanded the zone and his pitch count was down. Just an outstanding outing.”
After a late start to spring training because of an injury and mechanical issues the first few weeks of the season, Paxton is starting to feel like the pitcher that was dominant at times last season.
“I felt really good out there today,” Paxton said. “I was just staying on line and being aggressive and going after them with the fastball.”
A miscommunication between center fielder Austin Jackson and right fielder Seth Smith allowed Altuve’s soft fly ball to right-center to drop for a leadoff hit to start the bottom of the first.
Altuve later came around to score on Evan Gattis’ ground ball to shortstop to make it 2-1.
The Astros tied the score in the sixth inning. Paxton made the mistake of walking Luis Valbuena, a left-handed hitter, to start the inning, which is never a good thing. A soft single from George Springer to right field allowed Valbuena to move to third. He later scored on Gattis’ second ground-ball RBI of the game.
But instead of letting things spiral out of control, Paxton struck out Chris Carter and got Jason Castro to fly out to end the inning.
Information in this article, originally published April 30, 2015, was corrected May 1, 2015. A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that Brad Miller advanced to third base in the ninth inning. Logan Morrison advance to third.