HOUSTON — Squandering late scoring opportunities in a close game cost the Mariners a chance Thursday to cool off Houston’s surging Astros in a 3-2 loss in 10 innings at Minute Maid Park.
Houston extended its winning streak to seven games when Jose Altuve drove a single off the left-field wall against reliever Dominic Leone for his first career walk-off RBI.
“Right pitch call,” Leone said. “Just bad execution. It was middle-middle. It’s got to be low and away.
“That’s exactly what Lloyd (McClendon) came out and said, `If you throw a good down-and-away sinker, you get a double-play ball.’ That’s the play we had in mind, and (the ball) just faded back on me.”
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The loss snapped the Mariners’ three-game winning streak, prevented them from climbing back to .500 and left them five games behind first-place Houston, which has won 11 of its last 12.
Marwin Gonzalez started the winning rally by grounding a one-out double past first baseman Logan Morrison.
“I thought it was foul,” Morrison said, “but, obviously, I’ve got to make the play. I’ve got to catch.”
The Mariners did not challenge the call by first-base umpire Larry Vanover, the crew chief.
“It was fair,” McClendon said. “(Morrison) just missed it.”
Leone (0-2) walked pinch-hitter Colby Rasmus before Altuve rocked a first-pitch fastball off the wall.
About those missed chances:
Seth Smith started the 10th inning against Houston reliever Luke Gregerson with a single to right through an overshifted infield.
Justin Ruggiano replaced Smith as a pinch-runner and barely avoided getting picked off when Austin Jackson popped a bunt to first. Robinson Cano then grounded into a double play.
Gregerson (2-0) got the victory when the Astros scored in their 10th.
In the ninth, Morrison also grounded a single through an overshifted infield. That was against Tony Sipp, and Morrison moved to second on Brad Miller’s sacrifice.
Morrison went to third on a passed ball when catcher Jason Castro couldn’t locate the ball behind umpire Vic Carapazza.
The Mariners stranded Morrison at third. Dustin Ackley struck out on a pitch out of the strike zone and, after Pat Neshek replaced Sipp, Mike Zunino popped to second.
In the eighth, Jackson led off against Chad Qualls with a single to right and stole second. Jackson held second as Cano hit a hopper back to the mound. Nelson Cruz struck out.
After Sipp replaced Qualls, Jackson stole third standing up — but Kyle Seager grounded to second.
“The last five or six games,” Cano said, “we’ve left a lot of men on base. We’ve got to get better at that. I’m talking about myself. I’ve got to get better with runners in scoring position.
“All of us (have to get better) if we want to win and make it to the postseason.”
The Mariners were 4-for-13 with runners in scoring position in Thursday’s loss and are 11-for-65 with RISP over the last seven games.
“It’s just one of those things,” Morrison said. “You got through it. Whether you hit the ball hard or not hit the ball hard…let’s face it, the way they got their (first) two runs wasn’t exactly scalding the ball.”
Until Altuve’s game-winner.
The Mariners wasted an encouraging start from James Paxton, who gave up two runs and five hits in seven innings.
“He threw the ball just like I thought he would throw it,” McClendon said. “He really commanded the zone, and the ball was down.”
The Mariners nicked Houston starter Scott Feldman for two runs in the first inning but got nothing more thereafter. Houston countered with a run in its first and drew even against Paxton in the sixth.
“We’re better than this,” Cano said, “but we’ve got to get going. We’ve got to do our jobs. Our pitchers are putting us in position, but you can’t ask the starters or the bullpen (to win games) when you only score one or two runs.”