SEATTLE — That kick-start the Mariners were seeking Friday when they returned from a four-day break for the All-Star Game turned instead into a kick in the pants. Their pants.
Houston opened the game with a homer by George Springer against James Paxton and struck for five more runs in the fifth inning in rolling to a 7-3 victory over the Mariners at Safeco Field.
The Astros built a 6-0 lead before the Mariners stirred to life.
"I feel like I was trying to trick guys by pitching like a crafty lefty," Paxton said, "instead of pitching like the power pitcher that I am. I need to embrace the fact that I am a power pitcher."
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It’s not as if the Mariners don’t know this, but they’ve now lost five in a row to the Astros, which is a tough way to make up ground in the American League West Division race.
"Tonight?" second baseman Robinson Cano said. "Tonight, we just got beat."
Paxton (2-4) gave up six runs in five innings, along with three costly wild pitches, while Houston starter Doug Fister, a one-time Mariner, allowed three runs in five innings before the Astros turned to their bullpen.
"I thought he pitched great early," Houston manager A.J. Hinch said. "His command was good and then he looked like he tired out a little bit and didn’t make a few pitches."
Marwin Gonzalez’s two-out homer in the seventh inning against Tom Wilhelmsen closed the scored, while Michael Feliz. Ken Giles, Luke Gregerson and Chris Devenski kept the Mariners in check.
The loss dropped the Mariners back to .500 at 45-45 and kept them 8 1/2 games behind first-place Texas. The Astros are now within 4 1/2 games of the Rangers.
It didn’t start well.
The Mariners opened their post-break schedule with Paxton serving up that leadoff homer to Springer. It was still 1-0 when Houston opened the third inning with singles by Jake Marisnick and Jason Castro.
Springer then hit a potential double-play grounder to short, but Ketel Marte bobbled the ball and settled for a force at second. Paxton escaped when Marwin Gonzalez hit into a third-second-first (5-4-3) double play.
Marte’s two-out drive in the third over the head of center fielder Carlos Gomez turned into an out at third when Gomez made a phenomenal throw from deep center. Marte also suffered a sprained right ankle on the play. The Astros opened the fourth inning with singles by Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa but, again, Paxton got a double-play grounder and worked out of the threat.
Everything changed in the fifth.
Instead of double plays, Houston opened the inning with doubles from Evan Gattis and Marisnick, which pushed the lead to 2-0. Marisnick moved to third on Castro’s grounder to first.
Shawn O’Malley, who replaced Marte, saved a run by throwing out Marisnick at the plate after fielding Springer’s grounder before everything fell apart for Paxton and the Mariners.
After a single, a wild pitch and an intentional walk loaded the bases, another wild pitch scored Springer before Correa drove a two-run double into the left-center gap.
A two-base wild pitch then scored Correa from second. That quickly, the Mariners were in a 6-0 hole.
"It was 2-0, and you’re still in the ballgame," manager Scott Servais said, "with a man on first and two outs. You think we’re in pretty good shape. They put some pretty good at-bats together, but we didn’t finish the inning.
"It’s something we’ve talked about if we’re going to get going in the second half, you’ve got to finish at-bats, finish innings. You really have to finish, and we just didn’t get it done tonight."
Fister (9-6) rolled through the first four innings but found trouble in the fifth. Dae-Ho Lee’s one-out double ignited a three-run answer, which included a two-run double by O’Malley.
The Mariners even got the tying run to the plate with two outs, but Fister retired Robinson Cano on a squibber back to the mound.
PLAY OF THE GAME: Houston’s Carlos Gomez, a former Gold Glove recipient, threw out Ketel Marte from deep center field for the final out in the third inning.
Marte sent a drive over Gomez’s head, which appeared to be an easy triple, but Gomez made a terrific throw to third. Marte helped out by going into a pop-up slide, which brought his his head into contact with the ball.
While Marte was initially called safe, Houston challenged — and the replay clearly showed third baseman Luis Valbuena applied the tag before Marte reached the base.
Worse, Marte suffered a mild right ankle sprain on the slide and left the game. He took the field in the top of the fourth but exited with a limp before James Paxton’s first pitch. Shawn O’Malley replaced Marte.
"There’s not a lot of swelling (in Marte’s ankle)," manager Scott Servais said. "All of those good things you want to hear. Hopefully, he’ll just miss a day or two."
PLUS: Shawn O’Malley was 1-for-2 with a two-run double and a walk after replacing Ketel Marte. O’Malley had nine hits in his last 27 at-bats…converted reliever Nathan Karns worked two one-two-three innings…Dae-Ho Lee went 2-for-3 and raised his average to .293.
MINUS: Robinson Cano and Nelson Cruz were each hitless in four at-bats…Chris Iannetta was also 0-for-4, which dropped his average is down to .215. He left four runners on base.
STAT PACK: Kyle Seager’s one-out single in the second inning extended his hitting streak to 14 games, which is the longest this season by a Mariner. His single in the sixth gave him multiple hits in 10 of his last 17 games.
QUOTABLE: James Paxton’s three wild pitches contributed to Houston’s five-run fifth inning, but manager Scott Servais seemed to suggest catcher Chris Iannetta deserved a portion of the blame.
"They’re tough plays," Servais said, "but they’re plays you hope you can make and keep the ball in front of you and control. But it’s not easy."
Bob Dutton: @TNT_Mariners