HOUSTON — It’s been a while since the Mariners were happier to get away from anywhere more than their Sunday departure from Minute Maid Park after suffering a brutal four-game sweep by the Houston Astros.
Evan Gattis’ leadoff homer in the eighth inning provided the winning margin Sunday in lifting Houston to a 7-6 victory after the Mariners clawed their way back from a five-run deficit.
“As a team,” outfielder Rickie Weeks said, “we’re playing a lot worse than we really are. That is a good thing (in that there’s reason to expect improvement). But at the same time, we’ve got to turn it up a little bit.”
Quite a bit.
“We caught a team when they’re hot,” catcher Mike Zunino said, “and we just didn’t have enough to put out the fires and limit the damage. We need to make some better pitches, but they ran into a few balls pretty good.”
Gattis also had a three-run homer in the first inning and had four in the Astros’ four-game sweep. His game-winner, a line drive that just cleared the left-field wall, came against Carson Smith.
“It was a bad pitch,” Smith said, “and he’s a good hitter. I left a slider up in the zone, and he took advantage of it.”
It was the first run given up by Smith in 21 career appearances. And it was a crushing but fitting end to a four-day stretch in which the surging Astros had an answer for everything the Mariners came up with.
The Mariners now limp off to Anaheim at 10-15 and trailing first-place Houston (18-7) by eight games in the division race. That gap is largely due to losing six of seven to the Astros over the last two weeks.
Pat Neshek (2-0) got the victory after pitching a scoreless eighth inning before Gattis went deep against Smith (0-1). Luke Gregerson closed out Houston’s sweep in the ninth for his sixth save.
While Gattis’ second homer was the decisive blow, it was the third inning that crystallized Houston’s four-game sweep.
Trailing 3-0 after Gattis' first homer, the Mariners tried to mount a comeback against Houston starter Roberto Hernandez when Dustin Ackley doubled to left, and Brad Miller followed with an RBI triple past first base.
Miller stayed at third when Austin Jackson grounded to first. Jackson came up limping on the play, was helped from the field and subsequently replaced by Justin Ruggiano.
(The diagnosis, announced later, was Jackson suffered a sprained right ankle. He will be reevaluated Monday in Anaheim before the Mariners open a three-game series against the Angels.)
Seth Smith then lofted a fly to short right, and Miller challenged George Springer’s arm by charging home after the catch. Springer made a strong throw, but umpire Brian Knight ruled Miller eluded Jason Castro’s tag.
The Astros challenged — and the call was overturned for an inning-ending double play.
Next, Springer opened the Houston third by squirting a double past first base, but he made an ill-conceived dash for third on Gattis’ sharp grounder to first. Springer tried to retreat to second but was thrown out.
The poor judgment didn’t really matter because Chris Carter followed with a booming homer to left. The Astros led 5-1.
Mariners starter J.A. Happ kept pitching, at that point, to save the bullpen — and he did that by working through the sixth inning. But he gave up six runs and seven hits.
“Two changeups I wish I could take back and obviously can’t,” Happ said. “That’s really the story of the game right there. That’s tough when you give up two homers.”
Even so, the Mariners caught fire in the seventh inning and knocked out Houston starter Roberto Hernandez. They trailed 6-2 when singles by Kyle Seager and Logan Morrison put runners at first and third with no outs.
Zunino’s double off the left-field wall made it 6-3 and brought lefty reliever Tony Sipp into the game. The Mariners countered by pinch-hitting Weeks for Ackley.
Weeks delivered a two-run double to deep center, (VIDEO LINK) and the Mariners were back to within one. Weeks broke for third with one out when a pitch squibbed away from Castro.
That seemed a poor decision when Castro quickly pounced on the ball and threw to third. Weeks put on the brakes and should have been out easily. Instead, third baseman Jonathan Villar whiffed on the catch. (VIDEO LINK)
The ball got away, and Weeks scored the tying run.
The Mariners had a chance to grab the lead after Seth Smith’s two-out double, buy Sipp struck out Robinson Cano. It stayed 6-6 until Gattis’ second homer.
“There’s no pause button,” Zunino said. “We’ve got to get ready for a good club in Anaheim. We’ve got Felix (Hernandez) starting the series, and we’re hoping he can get us back on track.”