Retro duds, throwback dud: Astros beat M’s like it’s 1979

Staff WriterMay 25, 2014 

Put the Mariners in 1979 replica uniforms, as happened Saturday night, and … well, if you remember that year, this 9-4 loss to Houston probably seemed an appropriate tribute to the franchise’s disco-era charm.

Brandon Maurer failed to make it through the fifth inning, and the Mariners’ attack pretty much turtled against Brett Oberholtzer, who entered the evening winless in six decisions and sporting a 5.68 ERA.

Turn back the clock?

Be careful what you ask for, Mariners. Those ’79 Mariners lost 95 games. Nights like this weren’t unfamiliar.

Maurer (1-3) gave up six runs in 4 innings. Tom Wilhelmsen, who hadn’t allowed a run in his previous 132/3 innings, wasn’t much better in yielding three runs in 12/3 innings.

Afterward, Maurer appeared dazed in grasping for an explanation why the wheels came off. He gave up a two-run homer to George Springer in the first but then retired 11 in a row before the trap door opened in a five-run fifth.

“I lost conviction there,” Maurer said. “I wasn’t throwing with confidence in my pitches. I don’t know. It just kind of went away, I guess.”

Manager Lloyd McClendon pulled Maurer as another two-run homer by Springer pushed the lead to 6-2.

“That’s happened to him a few times,” McClendon said. “He’s on a run and one thing or another goes wrong. He just doesn’t seem to get it back together.”

The Astros (18-32) recalled Oberholtzer earlier in the day from Triple-A Oklahoma City, where he made two starts in penance for getting battered on a regular basis throughout April and into early May.

On this night?

Oberholtzer (1-6) gave up two tainted runs in the first inning but little else while striking out eight before handing a six-run lead to the bullpen to start the seventh. (The ’79 Astros, by the way, were pretty good.)

“When he pitched his first stint here,” Houston manager Bo Porter said, “he had gotten away from his effectiveness on the inner-third of the plate. He got back to that today and really attacked both sides.”

Springer, the rookie wonderkid, keyed Houston’s 11-hit attack with those two-run homers. He also drove in a run with a groundout and finished with five RBIs.

The Astros built a 9-2 lead before the Mariners trimmed the final margin. Darin Downs, Josh Fields and Kyle Farnsworth closed out Oberholtzer’s victory.

Had this taken place inside a concrete clam, in front of say, 5,000 fans, the illusion would have been nearly perfect.

That the announced attendance of 21,585 seemed to groove its way through the evening is a tribute to Safeco’s charms and a strong effort from the club’s marketing staff. The problem, as in 1979, was on the field. (Maybe also the music.)

“(Springer) had a great game,” said Robinson Cano, who had two of the Mariners’ eight hits. “It’s a long season, and the last thing you can do is hang your head and think about this game.

“You just come ready to play tomorrow.”

Maurer got off to a dreadful start. He opened the game by walking Jose Altuve on five pitches before Springer rocked a first-pitch, 93-mph fastball for a no-doubt home run to right field.

“We tried to go in tight with a two-seamer,” catcher John Buck said. “I don’t know if it cut on him or how far over it was, but it felt like it was away.”

And then out.

The Mariners (24-24) answered immediately, with a big assist from the Astros. Seattle scored two runs on a throwing error by Houston first baseman Marc Krauss on what could have been an inning-ending double play.

It stayed 2-2 until the Houston fifth.

Chris Carter led off with a double into the left-field corner and went to third when Alex Presley grounded a single through the right side.

The Mariners had a chance for a double play on Jonathan Villar’s grounder to second, but Cano bobbled the ball and settled, barely, for a tag on Presley as Carter scored for a 3-2 lead.

Villar broke for second on the first pitch to Altuve, who punched a single down the right-field line. Villar kept running and scored all the way from first.

Springer followed with his second two-run homer, which made it 6-2 and finished Maurer. In came Wilhelmsen, and it didn’t get much better.

“Not much of a game,” McClendon said. “We really didn’t give ourselves much of an opportunity.”

Come Sunday, the Mariners will try to turn the clock forward.

They’ll hand the ball to Hisashi Iwakuma for the series finale. Regular uniforms and music.

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