SEATTLE — This wasn’t a killer loss Wednesday night for the Mariners when they fell 5-2 to the Houston Astros at Safeco Field. Really, it wasn’t. It wasn’t a crushing giveaway in the late innings (like, ah, Oakland).
Heck, two of the other three primary wild-card contenders, Oakland and Detroit, also lost. But, brother (as Dave Sims might say), it’s hard not to see this as a lost opportunity.
“I think everything is more magnified right now, for sure,” third baseman Kyle Seager admitted, “by being in the hunt and it being this time of the year when all of the games are important.”
The Mariners ran out Hisashi Iwakuma, their secondary ace, against a rookie making his major-league debut. And opportunity soon beckoned when the scoreboard revealed those losses by the Tigers and A’s.
Instead, the Mariners coughed up a fur ball.
“It wasn’t good,” manager Lloyd McClendon said flatly. “Bad outing. Kuma had a bad outing. Our hitters had a bad outing. Our defense had a bad outing. Everything was bad. It was just one of those days.”
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 mustered 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.
“Everything was up in the zone,” said Iwakuma, who gave up four runs and six hits in 4 1/3 innings. “I couldn’t command the pitches down in the zone, and that cost me the game.
“Usually, I do make an adjustment. Today, I just couldn’t find a rhythm.”
Houston added an insurance run in the eighth against Tom Wilhelmsen by capitalizing on some shaky defense. First, Chris Carter singled off the glove of shortstop Brad Miller.
Carter stole second. Replays indicated he came off the base while Miller was still applying the tag — but the Mariners chose not to challenge.
“Our guys tried to get it to us,” McClendon said. “It was too late. The batter was in the box, and the pitcher was on the rubber. Once (the pitcher) is on the rubber, both feet (of the batter) are in the box, you can’t challenge.”
So what happened? Carter scored on Alex Presley’s single to short left when James Jones made an off-line throw. It served as fitting punctuation to a night when not much went right.
Jose Veras and Tony Sipp worked the closing innings as the Astros won a third straight series over a postseason contender. They swept two games from the Angels before winning two of three from the A’s and Mariners.
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.
“It’s tough because you know every game matters,” catcher Mike Zunino said. “We seem always to have off days after we’ve been playing well.
“So, hopefully, after playing one bad, an off-day will let us regroup for this last stretch.”
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.
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.
The Mariners answered with Zunino’s two-run double later in the inning, but that was all they would get.
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.
“A very tough, disappointing loss…,” McClendon said. “It was a bad night. I managed bad, and they played bad. That’s the way it goes.”
It sure did Wednesday.