HOUSTON — Welp…right now, the Mariners have no answers for the Houston Astros. Not many answers period, really.
On Saturday, they rocked Astros starter Collin McHugh for three home runs in the second inning, which staked Taijuan Walker to a three-run lead. Pretty good, hun?
It was like it only got the Astros mad.
Houston roared back for a 11-4 victory at Minute Maid Park. Two runs in the second inning, three in the third and four in the fourth…you get the idea. The Astros hit back-to-back homers in the third and fourth.
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“You just keep playing,” said right fielder Nelson Cruz, who hit two homers for the third time in 18 games. “There’s no doubt we have the talent. We’ve just got to put all of the pieces together.
“Right now, it’s something (that goes wrong) every day. We have to figure it out.”
Listen, as manager Lloyd McClendon is wont to say, the Astros are blue hot. They swept series at Oakland and Anaheim before the Mariners arrived in town. They have won nine in a row and 13 of their last 14.
(That one loss, by the way, came April 22 at Safeco Field when J.A. Happ out-pitched Roberto Hernandez, which is the match-up Sunday in the series finale.)
But make no mistake: From the Mariners’ perspective, Saturday was a freaking fiasco. They are 10-14 and, as the calendar turns to May 3, already seven games behind first-place Houston in the division race.
“It turned out to be a bad night for us,” McClendon said, in a lot of different ways,” McClendon said. “It’s a tough loss, but it’s only one loss.”
Walker (1-3) lasted just three batters into the fourth inning in a disastrous outing. Presented with that three-run cushion, he seemed to unravel after shortstop Brad Miller committed a sloppy throwing error to open the second.
This was a return by Walker to the miserable form of his first two starts: Eight runs (seven earned) in three-plus innings.
“I got three runs,” he said, “and I just lost it.”
Walker gave up two runs after Miller’s error in the second but got two quick outs in the third inning before the wheels came off after a walk to George Springer on a borderline 3-2 pitch.
Evan Gattis and Colby Rasmus followed with homers. The Astros never trailed again. The Gattis homer was particularly galling because Walker jumped ahead 1-2 with his fastball — and then hung a curve.
“I threw a curveball, left it up and he hit it,” Walker said. “I probably should have gone fastball there and blow one right by him.”
Miller’s error was one of three by the Mariners, who could have been charged with at least one more. Rasmus’ catchable two-out high pop to left fell between Rickie Weeks and Miller for a double.
That turned into the Astros’ 10th run when Marwin Gonzalez followed with a double.
In contrast, Houston center fielder Jake Marisnick made a spectacular run-saving catch on Logan Morrison’s two-out drive in the sixth. Marisnick executed a diving catch on Tal’s Hill, the 30-degree slope in deepest center.
“He came to my wedding,” Morrison said. “I played with him for a year with the Marlins. He’s now off the Christmas card list.”
Lost in the carnage was Cruz’s latest two-homer effort. Both were no-doubt bombs that pushed his season total to 13. He has three multi-homer games this season and 16 in his career.
Cruz’s first homer ignited the three-run second. Morrison and Mike Zunino also went deep in that inning. So four homers in all, but the Astros hit five.
The combined total of nine set a record for a nine-inning game at Minute Maid Park.
McHugh (4-0) recovered from his shaky second inning by pitching through the seventh. He has won 11 straight decisions dating to last season, which is one shy of the Astros’ record.
The Mariners’ three-homer burst in the second marked their first three-homer inning since Sept. 27, 2009 at Toronto — and take a bow if you remember it was Kenji Johjima, Matt Tuiasosopo and Franklin Gutierrez.
After the Astros scored twice in their second, the Mariners had a chance to regain momentum when they put runners at first and third with one out in the third, but Cruz popped to short right, and Kyle Seager flied to left.
So that club-awful production with runners in scoring position — a .212 average prior to the game — dipped a little further.
And then the Astros muscled up and left the Mariners, again, searching for answers. Asked whether changes were coming, McClendon said, “I’m going to have some ice cream and sleep on it.”