This wasn’t a killer loss Wednesday night for the Mariners when they fell 5-2 to the Houston Astros at Safeco Field. Heck, two of the other three primary wild-card contenders also lost.
But, brother (as Dave Sims might say), it’s hard not to see this as a lost opportunity.
The Mariners ran out Hisashi Iwakuma, their secondary ace, and against a rookie making his major-league debut. And opportunity soon beckoned when the scoreboard revealed losses by Detroit and Oakland.
Instead, the Mariners coughed up a fur ball.
Houston right-hander Nick Tropeano (1-0) won his debut after yielding two runs in five-plus innings before the Astros’ bullpen closed out his victory.
Lefty Darren Downs inherited a 4-2 lead when he replaced Tropeano after a leadoff walk to Michael Saunders in the sixth. Downs struck out Robinson Cano and got Kendrys Morales to ground into a double play. The Mariners managed little else over the rest of the game.
Iwakuma (14-7) yielded three two-out runs in the second inning and failed to survive the fifth. The Astros had a run in and runners at first and second when Dominic Leone replaced Iwakuma.
Leone stranded both runners by striking out two hitters, which left Iwakuma with a final line that showed four runs and six hits in 4 1/3 innings.
Houston added an insurance run in the eighth against Tom Wilhelmsen by capitalizing on some shaky defense. Chris Carter singled off the glove of shortstop Brad Miller.
Carter stole second, although replays indicated he might have come off the base with Miller applying a tag.
But the Mariners chose not to challenge, and Carter scored on Alex Presley’s single to short left when James Jones made an off-line throw.
That was fitting punctuation to night when not much went right. Jose Veras and Tony Sipp worked the closing innings in securing the Astros’ third straight series victory over a AL postseason contender.
Houston swept two games from the Angels and winning two of three from the A’s and Mariners. before taking two of three before arriving at Safeco.
The loss dropped the Mariners to 79-66 and kept them one-half game behind Detroit for the AL’s second wild-card berth and two games behind Oakland for the top wild-card spot.
The Astros started their three-run second inning with a rare Iwakuma walk — to Jon Singleton with one out. Singleton moved to second on Presley’s two-out single up the middle.
Max Stassi then sent a liner into the left-center gap.
Singleton scored easily, but the Mariners had a play on Presley’s attempt to circle from first — until Miller threw high to the plate after taking the relay from Jones.
That permitted Presley to score despite an awkward slide that forced him to scramble the last few feet on his belly to the plate.
It got worse when Jonathan Villar rocked a drive to deep left that Jones reached — and overreached. The ball struck Jones’ wrist and fell for an RBI double.
The Astros led 3-0, but the Mariners answered with Mike Zunino’s two-run double later in the inning.
That was all they would get.
Iwakuma pitched around Dexter Fowler’s one-out double in the third by striking out Carter and Singleton. But the Astros struck for a run in the fifth after Robbie Grossman grounded a one-out single up the middle.
Jose Altuve followed by pulling an RBI double into the left-field corner for a 4-2 lead.