In most circumstances, the outcome would’ve been completely predictable. But with this Mariners team, proving prediction models, run-differential believers and skeptical analysts wrong has been something of a theme this season.
Just a day before against these same Houston Astros, they overcame a seven-run deficit and won the game in dramatic fashion with a grand slam from Dylan Moore.
But the good feelings of what many players called “the biggest win of the season” were replaced by confusion and dejection when their pregame preparation was interrupted by the news that their closer and leader of the bullpen, Kendall Graveman, had been traded to the team across the diamond along with reliever Rafael Montero in exchange for infielder Abraham Toro and Joe Smith.
It was a gut punch of a day. And everything about their demeanor before the game said defeat was coming.
And an 8-6 loss did follow that evening for Seattle. And that it was that close, particularly after falling behind 3-0 in the first inning and later 8-2 in the fifth inning, speaks to the competitive nature of the team.
“Tough day, obviously,” manager Scott Servais said, referring to the pregame trade. “As we get closer to the trading deadline, things happen. We made a few moves today as well. Not easy, but our guys, we go out, we compete. I’m really proud of the way we handled things tonight, unfortunately, we just ended up a little bit short. But I think we’ve got the attention of the Houston Astros, that’s for sure.
Chris Flexen struggled through one of his worst outings in months, and the Mariners comeback mojo wasn’t quite potent enough for another improbable win. Though they made it more interesting than expected.
In the ninth inning, Astros closer Ryan Pressly served up a two-run homer to Toro in his first at-bat in a Mariner uniform, and Seattle brought the go-ahead run to the plate twice. But Kyle Seager flew out, and Ty France grounded out to end the game.
Seattle fell to 55-47 with its four-game winning streak ending.
“I would expect nothing less from this group,” Servais said of his team’s effort. “It’s not easy. It happens to teams around the league — players are moved and players come in. It takes a little while for it to settle, and it’ll eventually settle. We still have a few days left to go on the trading deadline. And I think we’re going to continue to be very active as our goals really haven’t changed here. Our goal is to do everything we can to get this ballclub in the playoffs.”
Flexen pitched just four innings, allowing seven runs on nine hits with no walks and three strikeouts, taking the loss and dropping to 9-5 on the season. It was his shortest outing since May 21 when he suffered through an abysmal outing at Petco Park, giving up eight runs on 10 hits in 1 2/3 innings vs. the Padres. The seven earned runs allowed were the most since that outing as well.
“I couldn’t limit the crooked numbers,” he said. “Seven runs is pretty terrible. Not to take anything away from them, they’re a good team, but I did a pathetic job of keeping us in the ballgame. Simple as that. That was on me.”
He ran into struggles immediately. A leadoff single to Jose Altuve and a one-out single to Yuli Gurriel was followed by Yordan Alvarez’s screaming three-run homer to the right field seats on a 2-0 cutter.
The Mariners did answer in the bottom half of the inning against Astros starter Lance McCullers, who has given them fits in the past with assortment of biting curveballs, sliders and improved change-ups.
J.P. Crawford led off with a double to left field, and Kyle Seager hit a towering two-run homer. The high fly ball just kept carrying in the warm early evening air, barely clearing the fence and just out of the reach of right fielder Kyle Tucker. It was his 20th homer of the season.
But after retiring the side in order in the second and third innings, Flexen found trouble again in the fourth. Myles Straw ripped a two-run double to deep right-center and Martin Maldonado scored with him on a single to left field. The slow-footed Maldonado advanced to third on Jose Altuve’s double to left and rumbled home on a wild pitch to make it 7-2.
“It comes down to not being able to make the big pitches in the big situations,” Flexen said. “I know that’s something I’ve done in the past. Tonight a lot of them caught way too much plate. They’re an experienced team. They’re an aggressive team. They’re on pitches throughout the whole game. I didn’t do a very good job of limiting the damage.”
Houston pushed the lead to 8-2 on an RBI single from Aledmys Diaz off the recently un-suspended Hector Santiago.
The Mariners cut the lead to 8-4 in the sixth inning. After striking out on breaking balls in his previous two plate appearances, Jarred Kelenic stepped to the plate with the bases loaded and one out. Knowing a steady diet of curveballs was coming, he was ready for them, dropping a soft broken-bat line drive into center off a 1-0 curveball that scored two runs.
The success was the product of a change in his setup at the plate.
“I feel like to be completely honest with you, I’ve been hunched over when I’ve been swinging,” Kelenic said. “I think that just where my eyes have been set up, it’s kind of made those pitches, those hanging breaking balls look higher than they are and then that’s why I freeze a little bit. Then I’m more susceptible to the pitches down. And that’s where pitchers make their money is getting guys to chase down.”
It was noticeable in that third at-bat with the bases loaded.
“I told myself to just stand up a little bit more, have my posture more upright,” Kelenic said. “He threw me a banger on the first pitch, and it was just below the zone. And it seemed so much farther down out of the hand, I wasn’t swinging. Then the next pitch was in the zone, I put a good swing up the middle and it just felt great.”
Kelenic also saved some potential runs in the eighth inning with a brilliant diving catch on a sinking line drive off the bat of Michael Brantley. He scrambled to his feet and fired to second double off Maldonado.
“I thought that was a fantastic defensive play,” Servais said. “It doesn’t get any better. You lay out like that then pop up to your feet, and he’s got that kind of throwing on to double up Maldonado at second — awesome play.
After Kelenic singled for the second time to lead off the night, Toro pinch hit for Dylan Moore. He homered against the Mariners on Monday night. And then homered for them Tuesday. He hit a towering fly ball to right field that Tucker seemed to have measured for a leaping catch. But the ball bounced off his glove and over the wall.
“Only in baseball,” Servais said. “It is wild the stuff you see.”