HOUSTON — Their late-inning flirtation with danger — consistently allowing the tying run to get into scoring position and the go-ahead run to come to the plate — never resulted in disaster. Working with a one-run lead, Casey Sadler (sixth), Drew Steckenrider (seventh) and Diego Castillo (eighth) pitched with enough guile to keep the best offense in the American League from scoring.
But for the Mariners, when it comes to playing the Astros, particularly in the unyielding hell that has been Minute Maid Park, it’s not a matter of if but when disaster will find them.
It came for Seattle’s best reliever in the ninth inning. Given a two-run lead, right-hander Paul Sewald experienced the pain that so many Mariner relievers have felt in this house of misery.
Sewald walked Jose Altuve, almost gave up a home run to Michael Brantley on a 379-foot fly-out and then served up a game-tying two-run homer to Alex Bregman.
After the Mariners failed to score in the top of the 10th inning, Yohan Ramirez tried to again hold a team scoreless in the bottom of the 10th with a runner starting on second.
But his first effort came against the Arizona Diamondbacks. This was the Houston Astros. On Ramirez’s fourth pitch — a 2-1 fastball — Carlos Correa bounced a line drive over the wall in right-center to score designated runner Yuli Gurriel for a walk-off 5-4 victory.
“Another crazy night at Minute Maid Park,” manager Scott Servais said. “We’ve dealt with a few of those before.”
True, but those crazy nights — almost all of them losses in the past three seasons — didn’t come when trying to fight their way into an American League wild-card spot.
On a day when the Yankees (78-60) and Red Sox (79-62) both lost, the Mariners (75-64) failed to gain ground on either team. Meanwhile, the Blue Jays, who have won six games in a row, moved a game ahead of Seattle in the wild-card standings at 75-62. Toronto is now two games behind Boston for the second wild-card spot.
In his fifth appearance vs. Houston this season and third time in seven days, Sewald saw the Astros hitters adjust their approach, refusing to chase his pitches that look like strikes out of his hand only to dart off the plate.
Bregman took a called first-pitch strike and then refused to chase three straight off the outside corner, forcing Sewald back into the strike zone on a 3-1 count. Sewald fired a 93-mph fastball that stayed up in the zone.
Sewald, who has working for the seventh time in 12 days, didn’t have his normal pinpoint command.
“He wasn’t quite as sharp as we’ve seen him the majority of the year,” Servais said. “He fell behind with a lot of deep counts. They were shrinking the zone on him, making him get the ball into the heart of the zone and not chasing at all because they’ve seen him so much.”
Seattle got a solid if not lengthy start from rookie right-hander Logan Gilbert, who was facing the Astros for the third time this season. His final line: 4 1/3 innings pitched, two runs allowed on six hits with a walk and five strikeouts. The only two runs allowed came with two outs in the third inning.
Gilbert hung a slider on a 1-1 count to Altuve, and the mistake was knocked off the fair pole in left field for a solo homer and a 1-0 lead. Michael Brantley followed with his second of three hits, hitting a one-hopper so hard off the wall in right field that he had to settle for a single. It just meant he had to run an extra 90 feet to score when Bregman laced a double into the right-center gap.
After the M’s mustered just two hits against Astros starter Jake Odorizzi in the first four innings, Luis Torrens led off the fifth inning with a single to right and Jarred Kelenic followed with a double into the right field corner. It gave the Mariners runners on second and third with no outs. But it didn’t immediately result in runs. Tom Murphy’s fly to right wasn’t deep enough for Torrens to tag up, and Jake Bauers made the second out with an infield pop-up.
But with two out, J.P. Crawford continued to show why he’s been one of the Mariners most reliable hitters with runners in scoring position. He hammered a fastball into the right-center gap for a double, which scored both runs and tied the game at 2-2. This season with runners in scoring position, he is batting .330 (30 for 90) with eight doubles, two homers and 37 RBI.
Gilbert couldn’t finish the fifth inning, thanks in large part to some miscommunication in the outfield.
With one out, Michael Brantley hit a hard fly into the gap in left-center. Left fielder Jake Bauers and center fielder Jake Kelenic converged on it. Bauers was in easy position to make the catch, but Kelenic was repeatedly calling for it. In most situations, once center fielder calls for it, it’s his ball. But as Bauers caught the ball while standing, the running Kelenic collided with him, knocking the ball to the turf. Brantley was safe at second. An error was charged on Kelenic. Bregman followed with an infield single, putting runners on the corners.
Lefty Anthony Misiewicz cleaned up the mess getting the final two outs.
Kyle Seager’s 34th homer of the season — a solo blast to right — broke the 2-2 tie in the top of the sixth inning.
Seattle also tacked on an insurance run in the top of the ninth. Abraham Toro doubled off Astros closer Ryan Pressley and then scored on Luis Torrens single to center.