It took a brilliant outing from Yusei Kikuchi, perhaps his best since 2019, and one swing of the bat from Taylor Trammell to provide the minimal amount offense required for the Seattle Mariners to pick up a 1-0 win over the Houston Astros to avoid a four-game sweep and pick up a rare win at Minute Maid Park and snap a four-game losing streak.
It was just the second time in the last 21 games in Houston where the Mariners have found victory. They (14-12) finished the eight-game road trip with a 3-5 record and return to T-Mobile Park to open a three-game series vs. the Los Angeles Angels on Friday night.
Coming off a lackluster outing in Boston, Kikuchi flirted with a no-hitter for six-plus innings while shutting down a Houston lineup that has traditionally torched Mariners pitching to notch his first win of the season.
“Heck of an outing and it couldn’t have come at a better time,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said. “We’ve struggled in this ballpark, and we needed to have somebody go out and do something like that to turn it in the right direction.
On a day where the Mariners were forced to place rotation ace Marco Gonzales on the 10-day injured list with a forearm strain with an expectation he will miss at least a few starts, Kikuchi produced an outing that provided hope he might be able to step forward into a prominent role of reliability.
“I think not just myself, but the entire staff, definitely needs to step up,” Kikuchi said through interpreter Kevin Ando. “We need to go out and go deep into ballgames — an extra inning, or even just an extra out. I think we need to have the entire staff all just step up and contribute until Marco comes back.”
Kikuchi carried a no-hitter into the seventh inning. After striking out Alex Bregman, he had a prolonged at-bat with Carlos Correa where he fell behind 3-1. After Correa fouled off a pair of pitches and with the count at 3-2, Kikuchi misplaced a cut fastball — leaving it on the outside part of the plate instead of driving it to the inside corner. Correa pounced on the mistake, sending a line drive to right-center for a double.
“It was a full count and I just decided to go and challenge him there,” he said. “I think a walk in that situation would have been the worst thing that I could do. So I just decided to be aggressive and challenge him in the zone.”
But instead of falling apart, Kikuchi maintained the 1-0 lead by making a sliding stop on a chopper in front of the mound and firing perfectly first to get Yuli Gurriel for the second out. He ended the inning and his outing by getting Aledmys Diaz to ground out to shortstop.
He finished with seven shutout innings on 95 pitches with 61 strikes, including 17 swings and misses. He allowed the one hit while issuing two walks — both of which could’ve been strikeouts if not for badly missed calls on four pitches — and seven strikeouts.
“Awesome outing,” Servais said. “I can’t say enough about his competitiveness today. That’s what really stood out to me. Obviously, he had good stuff and an outstanding cutter, inducing all the ground balls and a ton of contact on the ground. It doesn’t get any bigger than that to shut that team down and take a no-hitter into the seventh against one of the better lineups in the American League.”
It was easily his best outing of what has largely been a decent first month of the 2021 season and of the shortened 2020 season where he failed to pitch into the seventh inning. The last time he was this good came on Aug. 18, 2019, when he tossed a complete-game shutout vs. the Blue Jays.
“I wouldn’t say it was the best I’ve felt but definitely up there,” he said. “I’m just really happy to be able to contribute and help the team win today against a good opponent, and I’m happy we were able to end the losing streak.”
Taking a no-hitter past the fifth inning is far from a common occurrence, even for a pitcher facing the current Mariners’ lineup. The possibility grew from “maybe” to “you have my attention” with a dominant sixth inning. Kikuchi struck out Myles Straw, Jason Castro and Mariners nemesis Jose Altuve in dominant fashion.
“I noticed it pretty early in the game,” Kikuchi said of the no-hitter bid. “But I go into every start with a mentality of not allowing a hit to the opposing team. That’s exactly what I did today — same mentality going into the game. And because it was such a close game, I think that really allowed me to focus and get locked in.”
The Mariners bullpen secured the second shutout win of the season. Anthony Misiewicz pitched a scoreless eighth while Kendall Graveman picked up his third save with a little help from Trammell.
With two outs and the tying run on first base, Trammell, who was playing deep to avoid an extra-base hit, made a tough sliding catch on a soft pop fly to center to end the game.
“We were playing deep of course, no doubles,” Servais said. “He did not get a good jump on the ball. As that ball is in the air, I quickly looked at him and he hadn’t moved yet. I could see Graveman’s reaction. You’re dying for that last out. And that’s where Taylor’s athleticism and speed just makes up for maybe not a great job. Heck of a play to finish it off.“