The opportunity was wasted and the reasons for it were avoidable, and anything but typical of the Mariners and their success in 2021.
On a night when the Red Sox lost to the American League East-leading Rays, giving the Mariners a chance to make up one of the games that was lost over the weekend in the race for the second wild-card spot, they instead frittered away a victory against a team they simply don’t beat very often.
A series of mistakes in the field and unmade plays on defense that are normally executed with regularity, and multiple failures to hit in key situations resulted in a 4-3 defeat Monday night against the Astros at T-Mobile Park.
While all four runs were “earned” under official baseball scoring, they also were avoidable to the point where the Astros should have been held to perhaps two runs.
Instead, the Mariners remain 4.5 games behind Boston.
“We’ve been so good late in games in locking it down and holding the opponent down after getting the big hit,” Seattle manager Scott Servais said. “We just didn’t execute defensively as good as we normally do. It’s something we’ve been very, very good at throughout the course of the year. And tonight, we did make a couple mistakes that hurt us. You can’t do that against a good team. They will take advantage of it.”
The big hit was a pinch-hit, two-run homer from Dylan Moore in the sixth inning off left-hander Brooks Raley to give Seattle a 3-2 lead.
With multiple relievers unavailable due to heavy usage, Joe Smith got the call to pitch the eighth with the one-run lead. He allowed a leadoff single to Yuli Gurriel. On the throw in from the outfield, shortstop J.P. Crawford misplayed it, letting it hit off his glove and bounce away. Gurriel hustled to second and then scored moments later on Kyle Tucker’s single to right field, tying the game at 3-3.
“Pretty routine play, but errors happen,” Servais said. “But it was a big one, allowing the runner to advance 90 feet.”
Another defensive letdown allowed the Astros to take the lead for good. After Tucker stole second, he would score on Jake Meyers single to left field.
But should he have scored after stumbling and falling initially? Moore, who was playing left field, seemed resigned to throwing the ball to second and not allowing Meyers to advance on a throw home. But when Moore picked up the ball in the outfield, Tucker was reaching only third base as the go-ahead run. Instead, there was no play at the plate as Tucker scored.
“It was the wrong read,” Moore said. “I should have thrown home, that’s the go-ahead run, the deciding run. I’ve got to throw home. I can’t really pinpoint a reason. The ball did take a while to get to the outfield, but he stumbled. I just made the wrong read.”
Seattle got a serviceable start from right-hander Chris Flexen, who struggled in his previous outing against the Astros on July 27, which was the evening of the contentious and now infamous Kendall Graveman trade. Flexen allowed seven runs on nine hits that night and just trouble finding the strike zone.
Monday, Flexen pitched 5 2/3 innings, allowing two runs on eight hits with two walks and four strikeouts. That he was able to pitch into the sixth was a bit of an accomplishment considering his command was less than typical in the first two innings and spotty at times, inflating his pitch count early.
He also didn’t get much help from his teammates when he was working through those command issues.
In the first inning, after allowing a one-out single to Michael Brantley and walking Carlos Correa, Flexen gave up a hit to Yordan Alvarez on a rocket to center field. Jarred Kelenic retreated quickly on the ball, but his angle on it was a little off and as the ball tailed away from him, he was forced to spin back to make the catch. He didn’t. It hit off the palm of his glove and dropped to the ground. Because Correa had to hold up on the play to see if Kelenic would make the grab, only one run scored and Alvarez was limited to a single.
Correa was able to make it to third on the play. After Flexen issued a walk to Gurriel, Tucker lifted a fly ball to center field. Kelenic was able to get his feet set up early to make a strong throw to home as Correa tagged up. His throw carried all the way to home plate, but catcher Tom Murphy had moved up a little in front of the plate. It was just enough to where his reach-back tag was about two inches away from touching Correa on his head-first slide.
The Mariners did get one of the runs back in the second inning. Jose Marmolejos, who was called up before the game and was making his first plate appearance at the big-league level since May 19, smoked a misplaced 1-2 cutter from Astros starter Luis Garcia over the wall in right field for a solo homer.
The Mariners’ failures weren’t just in the field. They also failed to hit key situations. They left runners at third base in three innings. But the most egregious effort was the fifth. Luis Torrens led off with a double and immediately moved to third on a balk from Garcia. But he stayed there and watched Kelenic fly out to very shallow center, Murphy strike out and Mitch Haniger also strike out after Crawford worked a walk.