The team destined for the postseason slogged its way through the three-game series with the emotion and intensity of high-schoolers stuck in Saturday detention. The Astros know the playoffs are an inevitability with their amassed talent. But the swagger of years past was noticeably absent, perhaps filling those infamous trash cans now jettisoned from Minute Maid Park.
Meanwhile the team whose postseason hopes are still somehow alive due to math, but not common baseball sense, played its final home game of the season with the same energy as the first. In a season that was supposed to be about learning at the big-league level, it seems the Mariners have learned that energy and enthusiasm don’t have to go in slumps while exceeding expectations and playing games that matter in the final week of this shortened season.
Knowing they couldn’t afford lose another game the rest of the way and with a packed stadium of cardboard cutouts on hand for the final home game of the season, the Mariners avoided looming elimination from postseason qualification with a 3-2 victory Wednesday over Houston and a rare series victory.
The Astros did awake from their malaise in the bottom of the ninth with the help of Mariners’ “closer” Yoshihisa Hirano, who gave up two runs and had the tying run on second and Jose Altuve at the plate with two outs.
But Altuve’s miserable season continued when he struck out swinging to end the game.
After coming into the three-game series with a 2-24 record against the Astros dating back to last season, the Mariners took two of three from their rivals to improve to 25-31.
“Great series to end up the home portion of our schedule this year,” Seattle manager Scott Servais said in a postgame video conference. “I know it’s been a while since we beat the Astros in a series, so really happy with the way the guys play. They played super, super hard, really we have all year.”
It was Seattle’s first series victory over the Astros since Sept. 17-19, 2018, and the first home series victory against Houston since April 25-27, 2016.
And while it doesn’t represent a changing of the guard in the division, the Astros, who fell to 28-28, look like a team headed for an early exit from the postseason and an offseason of change.
As for the Mariners’ playoffs hopes, they can’t lose despite being three games behind the Astros. Because Houston holds the tiebreaker, Seattle must win its next four games and hope the Astros lose their next four against the hapless Rangers to qualify for second place in the AL West.
The other avenue is for the second wild-card spot. The Blue Jays, who currently hold the spot, reversed their fortunes against the Yankees with a 14-1 trouncing to improve to 29-27. Seattle is four games back there as well.
And then there are the resurgent Los Angeles Angels, who moved a half-game ahead of the Mariners at 26-31. But Seattle does hold the tiebreaker over the Angels, so if they finished with identical records, they’d get in.
“We’re still playing for something,” said infielder Ty France in a postgame video conference. “We still have a little bit of a chance, and we know that. We’re coming out with some fire and kind of just running with it right now.”
The Mariners got a solid start from left-hander Nick Margevicius, who pitched six shutout innings, allowing three hits with three walks and four strikeouts. While he had just 11 of 23 first-pitch strikes, he came back with strikes in eight of the 12 at-bats with a 1-0 count, which meant he had only three 2-0 counts the entire game.
“Marge really hung in there and executed well,” Servais said. “You look at his final line and the results were outstanding. And I think he’d be the first to tell you it maybe wasn’t the best stuff he’s had as far as crispness to it.”
It forced Margevicius to his curveball in certain situations.
“He learned the value of that curveball,” Servais said. “His curveball was outstanding today. So even though the fastball velocity maybe wasn’t as good as we’ve seen out of him in the past, using the curveball like he did, really helped play up the fastball when he needed to go to it.”
He faced some minor drama in the third inning when he allowed a leadoff double to Aledmys Diaz and walked George Springer with one out. But shortstop J.P. Crawford gloved Altuve’s hard liner and flipped the ball to second to double off Diaz to end the inning.
In the fifth, Margevicius loaded the bases with one out, but he came back to strike out Springer on three pitches and get Altuve to fly out to end the inning.
“Definitely not my best stuff tonight, but I thought my curveball was pretty good,” Margevicius said in a postgame video conference. “And that kind of carried me through, just keeping them honest with that pitch. That allowed my fastball to not necessarily throw it by guys but to beat their barrels and not get barreled up with the fastball.”
In his constant churn of low-cost, low-risk roster moves in the search for untapped talent or flawed but fixable performers, Seattle general manager Jerry Dipoto has unearthed a quality contributor in the young left-hander.
Claimed off waivers from the Padres last offseason as depth for the rotation, Margevicius has found a place in the Mariners’ organization. It’s instructive to remember he’s playing this season at age 24, the same as Justus Sheffield and Justin Dunn.
Unless the Mariners acquire multiple starting pitchers via free agency this offseason — they realistically need to sign at least one — Margevicius will almost certainly compete with Dunn and top prospect Logan Gilbert for spots in the expected modified six-man rotation going for 2021.
“He’s shown us he’s a starting pitcher,” Servais said. “We just have to wait and see how things play out as we go through the offseason. But I have no problem giving him the ball once every six days and feel really good about our chances. He’s going to give you a chance to win every time out there. And that’s what you’re looking for out of starting pitching.”
The Mariners scratched out three runs against Astros grunting starter Zack Greinke, who didn’t have plus command and talked to himself about it on the mound often as his pitch count snowballed.
France ripped a run-scoring double in the first inning for a 1-0 lead. Kyle Seager made it 2-0 with a double to deep right center in the fifth that scored Crawford from first base. France added a run-scoring single moments later to make it 3-0.