Just when it seemed the Mariners might snatch a victory on a Tuesday night when their attack fizzled against Houston rookie Collin McHugh, it slipped away.
Jonathan Villar’s two-out RBI single in the ninth inning countered a game-tying homer by Logan Morrison in the eighth inning and lifted the Astros to a 2-1 victory at Safeco Field.
It was a costly loss.
The Mariners surrendered their lead in the battle for the American League’s final wild card. They now trail AL Central co-leaders Detroit and Kansas City by a half-game.
They also fell two games behind Oakland for the AL’s top wild card with 18 games remaining in the season. The Mariners lost for just the second time in their last eight games.
“The way we lost tonight was not ideal,” Morrison agreed. “You take it a little harder. But it is what it is — one game. We still control our own destiny. If we continue to take care of business, win series, we’ll be fine.”
The Astros produced the winning run by mounting a two-out rally in the ninth inning against Yoervis Medina, who entered the game after Joe Beimel retired the first hitter in the ninth.
Medina (4-3) struck Jake Marisnick but walked Jon Singleton, who went to second on a wild pitch.
Matt Dominguez then hit a grounder to deep short that Brad Miller kept in the infield, but the single put runners at first and third.
Villar followed by yanking a 95-mph fastball past second baseman Robinson Cano for an RBI single and a 2-1 lead.
“We had the matchup we wanted,” manager Lloyd McClendon said. “We got the ground ball we wanted. It just took a bad hop. Tough break.”
That’s how it ended.
Miller opened the bottom of the inning with a drive to deep center against one-time Mariner Josh Fields, but the ball, as so often happens at Safeco, died as it approached the wall.
Just a long out.
“Off the bat,” Miller said, “I did (think it had a chance to go out). It felt pretty good off the bat. It would have been nice, even if it had just hit off the wall.”
Fields recovered from the near-miss by retiring the next two hitters for his his fourth save while closing out a victory for McHugh, who limited the Mariners to just two hits in eight innings.
“When he’s around the plate,” Astros manager Tom Lawless said, “he’s pretty hard to hit. What are you going to say? He pitches 71/3 shutout innings against a ballclub like this…hats off to him.”
The Mariners had just one hit, an infield single, against McHugh (9-9) before Morrison crushed a 1-0 fastball for a game-tying homer with one out in the eighth inning.
“He missed location,” Morrison said, “and I was able to capitalize on it. I wasn’t thinking of hitting a home run. I was thinking of trying to get the barrel to it and hit it hard somewhere.”
The estimated distance: 411 feet.
That countered Houston’s first run, which came in fourth inning against Mariners starter Roenis Elias.
Chris Carter served a broken-bat single to left and, after Jason Castro struck out, Marisnick grounded into a force at second. Singleton followed with a drive to deep right off the top of the wall.
If right fielder Michael Saunders makes a clean pick-up off the carom, he possibly throws out Marisnick at the plate. As it was, Marisnick barely beat the throw for a 1-0 lead.
Singleton was credited with an RBI double and reached third on the throw, but Elias kept the damage to one run by retiring Dominguez on a pop to second.
The Astros nearly got another run in the sixth inning after Carter drew a one-out walk, and Castro followed with a single to right.
The runners held on Marisnick’s fly to center before Singleton hit a grounder to first.
Elias broke late from the mound and had to leap for Morrison’s throw. The result was a bang-bang, and umpire Pat Hoberg ruled Singleton reached the base first,
Carter kept running and scored for a 2-0 lead.
Until the Mariners challenged.
The video review overturned the call, showing Elias got his foot down first. That ended the inning, and the score reverted to 1-0.
Until Morrison’s blast, the Mariners had no answers for McHugh, who won his fifth straight decision. He has now allowed just 10 runs in 531/3 innings over his last eight starts since Aug. 1.
“He’s been tough on a lot of people lately,” McClendon said. “Today was no different. I thought he threw a pretty darn good cutter in on left-handers. His breaking ball was sharp with some decent change-ups.
“It was one of the better pitched games of the year.”