HOUSTON — Ever play a fine round of golf before three-putting the 18th green? That was the Mariners on Sunday in a 5-1 loss to the Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park.
The Mariners had won five of their previous six games on their road trip and were seeking to win their seventh straight series in this Mother’s Day finale to a four-game weekend set.
Not much went right.
Hisashi Iwakuma (1-4) gave up three runs in a frustrating five innings and, while usually efficient, he required 98 pitches to make it that far against the free-swinging Astros.
He gave up one run on a pair of doubles in the second inning but two soft runs in the third.
That was enough, although Houston put the game away with a two-run seventh inning against Mayckol Guaipe that included two errors.
“You lose games like today,” right fielder Seth Smith said, “and you just move on to the next one. The road trip was good. But you just press one and get ready to win a game (Monday).”
So the Mariners headed back to the Northwest with a split in the four-game series, a 5-2 trip that began with a three-game sweep in Oakland and a one-half game lead over Texas in the American League West Division.
Not bad. Just not what it could have been.
“We did not hit today,” manager Scott Servias said, “but, for most of the trip, we did swing the bats pretty well. Obviously, Robby (Cano) has been carrying us.
“Coming off the last homestand, we continue to play good ball. We just kind of had a dud today.”
The Astros struck first by getting successive two-out doubles in the second inning from Luis Valbuena and Tyler White for a 1-0 lead.
After right fielder George Springer snatched back a game-tying homer from Leonys Martin in the top of the third, Houston added two more runs later in the inning against an exasperated Iwakuma.
First, Jose Altuve beat out a soft chopper to third for a one-out single, stole second and third. Carlos Correa then worked back from a 1-2 hole for a two-out walk and stole second.
The inning turned when Colby Rasmus beat out a bunt on a 1-2 pitch for an RBI single.
“It was a good move on their end,” Iwakuma said. “It was unexpected. You tip your cap. He put a good bunt down. I tried to get the out at first, but I didn’t get it.”
When Marwin Gonzalez then beat an overshifted infield with a routine grounder through the vacated shortstop hole for another RBI single — and a 3-0 lead — Iwakuma threw up his arms in frustration.
“It was a tough inning in general,” Iwakuma said. “A lot of pitches, and they found holes.”
The Mariners got one run back when Cano led off the fourth inning with a 380-foot homer to right field. It was his fifth homer and 17th RBI in seven games this season against the Astros.
That was all they got against Astros starter Collin McHugh (4-3) in seven innings before Tony Sipp closed out the victory. McHugh entered the game with a 6.59 ERA but permitted just five hits.
“He controlling all of his pitches and keeping them all out of the middle of the plate,” Smith said. “When you can do that and still throw strikes, you have a good chance of being successful.”
Altuve started Houston’s two-run seventh with a leadoff single against Guaipe, stole second and went to third on catcher Steve Clevenger’s throwing error.
Springer’s hard grounder skated through shortstop Ketel Marte for a run-scoring error. Springer stole second and scored on Carlos Correa’s RBI single.
PLAY OF THE GAME: Colby Rasmus gambled and won when he squared for a bunt on a 1-2 pitch from Mariners starter Hisashi Iwakuma with two outs and runners at second and third in the third inning.
Rasmus kept the ball fair up the third-base line and beat Iwakuma’s throw to first base for an RBI single.
“Give Rasmus credit,” manager Scott Servais said. “He executed it. It’s a tough play. It’s a risky play. But it worked for him.”
PLUS: Cano has 17 RBIs against the Astros with 12 games remaining between the two teams. His personal best for one year against a single opponent is 18 against Boston in 2006 while playing for the Yankees…reliever Steve Johnson worked a one-two-three eighth inning.
MINUS: The Astros had five steals in five attempts against catcher Steve Clevenger, who also had a throwing error…outfielder Seth Smith is slumping. He has just two hits in his last 24 at-bats after going 0-for-4. His average is down to .250…shortstop Ketel Marte was 0-for-9 over the last two games after a 22-for-56 surge over the previous 14 games.
STAT PACK: The Mariners haven’t been atop the American League West Division this late in the season since 2003…Robinson Cano has 33 RBIs through 31 games. The only player in franchise history with more through 31 games was Ken Griffey Jr., with 35 in 1997.
QUOTABLE: “That guy’s killing me,” Leonys Martin said regarding the leaping catch by Houston right fielder George Springer, which pulled back a homer at the wall in the third inning.
SHORT HOPS: Right-hander Taijuan Walker reported significant improvement Sunday in his sore neck, which forced his removal from Friday’s game after two innings. He was able to throw from flat ground and is scheduled to throw a light bullpen workout Monday and make his scheduled start on Wednesday against Tampa Bay…designated hitter Nelson Cruz got the day off to nurse a bruised right forearm suffered Friday when hit by a Doug Fister pitch. Cruz is expected to return Monday to the lineup.
Bob Dutton: @TNT_Mariners