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.
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.
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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.
George Springer’s high chopper to third kicked off the glove of a leaping Kyle Seager for a game-winning single.
Furbush’s problems came after Yoervis Medina fumbled away a one-run lead in the eighth through a one-out walk and a poor decision on a play later in the inning that permitted that walk to turn into the tying run.
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.
And 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.
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.
Tom Wilhelmsen inherited a 4-3 lead to start the sixth. He got two quick outs before finding trouble.
Jonathan Villar grounded a single up the middle and went to second on center fielder Abraham Almonte’s second error of the game. Wilhelmsen then ignored Villar, who stole third without a throw.
Altuve walked — and stole second without a throw. But Wilhelmsen survived it all by striking out Fowler.
The Mariners stranded runners at first and third in the seventh, when Robinson Cano lined out to reliever Tony Sipp.
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 soft chip that fell in front of Medina, who fielded it and threw to first for the out. Presley scored.
Houston starter Brad Peacock started with four scoreless innings before allowing two runs in the fifth (on a Mike Zunino homer), and two more in the sixth (on a Seager double).
Altuve whacked Hernandez’s first pitch into the left-field corner for a double. He went to third on Fowler’s grounder to second, but Hernandez struck out Jason Castro and Springer.
Hernandez then worked around two walks in the second but couldn’t work around some shoddy defense in the third after Altuve opened the inning with a perfect bunt single to the left side.
Fowler followed with a sharp grounder that ate up shortstop Brad Miller for what was scored a single and moved Altuve to second.
Castro then sent a drive to deep center that Almonte simply missed on the warning track in front of Minute Maid’s distinctive berm. It was scored an error; and Altuve scored.
Hernandez struck out Springer but Marc Krauss punched an RBI single into center for a 2-0 lead.
The Mariners didn’t get their first hit until Miller started the fourth by serving a soft single into right. But Cano flied to left, and Corey Hart grounded into a double play.
Seager opened the fifth with a single and stole second before Zunino lofted a two-out drive to left that had sufficient carry to clear the wall for a two-run homer.
Not for long.
Hernandez started the Houston fifth by hitting Castro, who went to second on Springer’s squibber in front of the plate. Krauss then yanked a drive into the right-field corner.
Saunders played the carom and threw a dart to second that nailed Krauss…but Castro scored, and the Astros led 3-2.
The Mariners answered in the sixth after Saunders led off with a bunt single and went to second on Miller’s grounder to first. After Peacock walked Cano on four pitches, Hart punched a single into left.
Seager cranked a drive to deep right that Springer appeared positioned to catch at the wall — and didn’t. The runners had to hold on the play, but two scored on what ended up a double.
The Mariners led 4-3, but the chance for a bigger inning slipped away when Justin Smoak struck out on three pitchers, and Dustin Ackley hit a weak grounder to first.