HOUSTON — An opportunity to surge to the front of the Wild Card standings beckoned Saturday night to the Mariners after the results elsewhere from earlier in the day.
So how did that go?
The Mariners, by the fourth inning, had demoted starter Erasmo Ramirez toiling in mop-up duty as a reliever.
So not well.
The Houston Astros rocked Chris Young for four homers in three-plus innings and rolled to a 10-1 victory at Minute Maid Park.
“I didn’t pitch as well as I’m capable,” Young said. “I’m disappointed. I felt good going in. I don’t know what happened. I just didn’t make good pitches.”
Young surrendered two-run blasts in the first inning to Chris Carter and Alex Presley before exiting after Matt Dominguez and Chris Corporan started the fourth inning with successive bombs.
The point to note here is the Astros had exactly one homer in their previous 13 games. They got their fifth of the night when Jake Marisnick hit a three-run shot in the seventh inning against Ramirez.
The four-run first was plenty for Houston starter Dallas Keuchel, whom Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon labeled as having “average stuff” after a May 25 complete game in which he permitted one unearned run.
The jibe, likely, was aimed more at the Mariners at the time as a motivational ploy. If so, it had no effect this time around. Keuchel (12-9) gave up just one run in eight innings.
“Everybody was up in a huff about what I said last time,” McClendon said, “but I wasn’t trying to downplay the kid. He’s got average stuff, but he knows how to pitch.
“He doesn’t have David Price-type of stuff. That’s just a fact. It’s not a knock on the kid. He’s 88-90 (mph), but he pitched well.”
In contrast, Young (12-9) is now winless in his last five starts after positioning himself as strong comeback-player-of-the-year candidate through the season’s first four-plus months.
“I felt good,” he insisted after giving up a season-high seven runs. “I felt good all week. I felt like I pitched well in my last start. It carried over into my throwing this week. I had a great bullpen (workout) in Anaheim.
“It just wasn’t there today. It’s just one of those days. I feel like, for the most part, I’ve given the team a chance (this season). A couple of starts this month, I haven’t. But I’ll bounce back.”
Young is slotted to make his final regular-season start Thursday in Toronto.
“I would be lying if I said I wasn’t concerned,” McClendon said. “Fact is, we’re in the home stretch right now. What do you do? He’s a veteran guy and says he feels good. Tonight, it just didn’t come out very well.”
Asked if Young will pitch Thursday, McClendon said: “As we speak right now, yes.”
The loss kept the Mariners (83-71) from pulling even with Oakland (84-70) for the American League’s top Wild Card spot. Since the Mariners own the tiebreaker advantage, they would have led the A’s on that basis.
Instead, the Mariners remained one-half game behind Kansas City (83-70) for the second and final Wild Card berth. The season ends a week from Sunday.
The A’s and Royals played afternoon games, so the Mariners knew those results before playing. But third baseman Kyle Seager called that “a little bit of dangerous game because it’s not like you play extra hard when they lose.”
Either way, it quickly became irrelevant because Young’s problems started immediately. Robbie Grossman led off the first inning with a bloop single to left and, after Jose Altuve flied to left, stole second.
Carter followed with a monster shot over the left-field seats. Dexter Fowler doubled to right before Presley sent a no-doubt drive over the right-field wall. That quickly, it was 4-0.
Young’s troubles continued in the second inning after Gregorio Petit rocked a one-out double left. He went to third when Young threw a wild pitch on ball four to Grossman.
The Mariners choked off Houston’s attempt to steal a run by throwing out Grossman while holding Petit at third, but it was a temporary reprieve. Altuve lined an RBI single to left for a 5-0 lead.
The Mariners got one run back in the third, but any chance at a comeback slipped away in the fourth when they failed to score after loading the bases with no outs on singles by Logan Morrison, Corey Hart and Mike Zunino.
Keuchel struck out Chris Taylor a check swing before Jackson ended the inning by grounding into a pitcher-catcher-first double play. Corporan throw to first hit Jackson, who was ruled out for being out of the baseline.
So…bases loaded with no outs…and nothing.
Dominguez and Corporan then opened the Houston fourth with successive homers. That made it 7-1 and brought Ramirez chugging in from the bullpen.