HOUSTON – The Mariners didn’t win against the Astros on Saturday night, which isn’t surprising since they’ve only done it once in 16 games this season and have lost their past 10 games versus Houston. They were competitive, though, in a 2-1 defeat and perhaps more important avoided being a dubious part of baseball history on multiple levels.
“You know going into the game that you aren’t going to score a ton of runs, but you hope to win a low-scoring game with a big hit late in the game,” said manager Scott Servais. “We didn’t do that. We had guys out there. We just weren’t able to get that big hit.”
But they did get hits and that was important.
They didn’t allow Justin Verlander to match the defining moment of Johnny Vander Meer’s otherwise unremarkable baseball career — throwing no-hitters in back-to-back starts. Vander Meer no-hit the Boston Bees and Brooklyn Dodgers in June of 1938. It’s an accomplishment that seems impossible to achieve given the modern era of baseball.
And had Verlander pulled off the improbable, the Mariners would have been the first team to ever be no-hit three times in a season. Seattle was the victim of a pair of combined no-hitters by the Angels and, of course, the Astros.
After no-hitting the Blue Jays in Toronto last Sunday, Verlander, the leading candidate for the American League Cy Young, fell short in his bid for history and had to settle for his 18th victory of the season. He was still dominant, pitching seven innings and allowing one run on four hits with a walk and seven strikeouts.
“This is one of the best teams in baseball,” said second baseman Dee Gordon. “We play them so much. We understand what we are going up against every time.”
Indeed, the Astros improved to 93-50 and their 15 victories against Seattle this year are a team record for a season.
Given that the Mariners have been no-hit twice already this season and the dominant season Verlander has been compiling, a second straight no-hitter couldn’t seem like an impossibility.
After two dominant innings in which Verlander struck out three of the six batters he faced, the possibility seemed a little more real. But Shed Long put a stop to such thinking, leading off the third inning with a single through the right side.
The Mariners not only avoided being no-hit, but they avoided being shut out moments later when Dee Gordon tripled into the right-field corner to score Long from first base.
Seattle got a solid, if not lengthy, start from rookie lefthander Yusei Kikuchi, who worked five innings, allowing one run on five hits with two walks and five strikeouts.
“He threw the ball great against a quality opponent,” Servais said. “He had good quality stuff and he used his changeup quite a bit tonight. Really solid outing by him. He made just one mistake.”
Kikuchi’s first season in Major League Baseball has been one of adjustment. But using a more relaxed approach on the mound, making some slight mechanical adjustments and working at a quicker pace, he has found a recipe that has allowed him to be more effective.
“I got hit around in two games and I wanted to stop that momentum,” he said through interpreter Justin Novak. “The pitches I tried to baby in there for strikes, they take them out of the ballpark. So I just wanted to make sure everything was aggressive tonight.”
His best inning was his third, when he retired Jose Altuve, Michael Brantley and Alex Bregman in order on three ground balls.
“I’m able to throw the pitches that I’ve been wanting to throw,” he said. “I’ve been able to build confidence and go out there and not really think much, just pitch.”
Kikuchi carried the 1-0 lead into the sixth inning, but didn’t record an out.
Bregman clubbed his 34th homer of the year to lead off the inning. Kikuchi then allowed a single to Yordan Alvarez, which ended his night. Servais went to right-hander Austin Adams to face a run of right-handed hitters in Houston’s order.
Adams walked the first batter he faced, which is less than ideal. But he came back to get Robinson Chirinos to hit into a 4-6-3 double play and struck out Abraham Toro looking to leave the go-ahead run on third base.
Adams couldn’t match that scoreless inning in the seventh. Pinch-hitter Kyle Tucker hit a fly ball to the edge of the wall of the Crawford Boxes in left field. A fan reached over and caught the ball. It was ruled as fan interference on the field, giving Tucker a double, and after an inordinately long replay review, the call was confirmed.
A wild pitch from Adams allowed Tucker to hustle to third. That extra 90 feet set up Josh Reddick’s sacrifice fly to center that scored Tucker for the winning run.
Seattle threatened to tie the score in the eighth with Verlander finally out of the game, being replaced by right-hander Josh James. Tim Lopes smoked a one-out double off the fence in deep right-center. He moved to third on a throwing error on Gordon’s infield single. But James came back to strike out Dylan Moore and Mallex Smith to end the inning.
“They are tough at-bats,” Servais said. “Dylan has been having a pretty good run and swinging the bat pretty well. But in those at-bats, you have to be able to slow it down and get your pitch to hit. He got out of the strike zone a little bit right there. That’s part of being a young player. You have to learn from those experiences and he will. But that was a big at-bat.”
The Mariners removed center fielder Jake Fraley from the game in the third inning with soreness in his right thumb. Lopes pinch hit for Fraley in the third. The minor injury stemmed from a miscommunication with right fielder Mallex Smith on a deep fly ball to right center. Smith called for the ball and was camped under it when Fraley came charging over to catch it. Their arms and gloves collided, with Smith still making the catch.
“The thumbside of my glove caught what I guess was Mallex’s glove and it just ripped my thumb back,” Fraley said. “It just swelled up real quick and I wasn’t able to close my glove all the way. Once I couldn’t squeeze my glove all the way, I didn’t want to chance anything being out there. And obviously it was going to hurt even worse when I’m swinging.”
Fraley will undergo an MRI on Monday in Seattle to see the extent of the damage to the thumb.