HOUSTON — If the Mariners are ever going to gain real traction in their rebuilding process, they need to find a way to do what pretty much every other club does.
Instead, they saw the momentum of two road victories in New York slip away Friday night when they stumbled early and late in a 5-4 loss to the Astros in 11 innings at Minute Maid Park.
“They were a little better, execution-wise,” catcher Mike Zunino said. “In the late innings, they had some key spots, and they executed.”
The end came after Jose Altuve greeted Charlie Furbush, the Mariners’ seventh pitcher, with a leadoff single in the 11th. Dexter Fowler followed with a perfect push bunt up the first-base line for a single.
Furbush tried for a force at third when Carlos Corporan put down an attempted sacrifice bunt. But the throw was late, and the bases were loaded with no outs.
“It was a great bunt,” Furbush said. “I tried to make the best play I could, and I couldn’t get it done.”
George Springer then sent a high chopper to third that kicked off the glove of a leaping Kyle Seager for a game-winning single.
This makes three losses in four games this season to Houston, which is 7-18 against everyone else. Now add four straight late-season losses last year to a club that lost 111 games.
“It’s one of those things,” Zunino said. “We always seem to have pretty close games against them. It would be nice to be on the other end of it a few times.”
Furbush’s problems came after Yoervis Medina fumbled away a one-run lead in the eighth through a one-out walk and a suspect decision on a play later in the inning that permitted that walk to turn into the tying run.
“We probably had the guy caught between home and third,” manager Lloyd McClendon said. “It’s a reactionary play. Pitchers just don’t do that very often, and you’re asking him to do a lot right there.
“His instincts, when he didn’t see him coming home, was to go to first.”
But there’s more:
Center fielder Abraham Almonte’s struggles at the plate widened to include two errors, one of which produced an unearned run. The Mariners also blew a chance to blow the game open after taking a 4-3 lead in the sixth.
After Seager’s two-run double with the bases loaded, they had runners at second and third with one out. But Justin Smoak struck out, with the infield pulled in, on three pitches.
“I’d like to see him put that ball in play,” McClendon said. “We’ve been preaching that all spring and all throughout the season. Those are big RBIs there. Get the one. Put it in play, and get it to the outfield.”
It all helped set the stage for eventual disappointment.
Anthony Bass (1-0) got the victory after working two scoreless innings. Furbush (0-3) was the loser. It all took 4 hours and 2 minutes.
Mariners ace Felix Hernandez labored through five innings but limited the damage to three runs, one of which was unearned. But he walked three, hit a batter and ran numerous deep counts.
“He was under the weather,” McClendon said. “He didn’t have much strength going out there. He battled and gave us five innings. I didn’t know what we’d get out of him.
“He was drained. He was sick (Thursday) and very weak today. He did a great job to keep us in the ballgame.”
Houston starter Brad Peacock started with four scoreless innings before allowing two runs in the fifth (on a Zunino homer), and two more in the sixth (on a Seager double).
Tom Wilhelmsen inherited a 4-3 lead from Hernandez to start the sixth. He got two quick outs before the Astros put runners at second and third. Wilhelmsen held the lead by striking out Fowler.
Joe Beimel and Dominic Leone combined to strike out the side in the seventh, but Medina put the tying run on base with a one-out walk in the eighth to Alex Presley.
And that walk hurt.
Matt Dominguez followed with a soft single to center that moved Presley to third. Villar tied the game with a soft chop that Medina fielded midway between home and first.
When he threw to first for the out. Presley scored.
“That guy was running on contact,” Medina said. “So you say, ‘OK, I’m going to first base.’”