Even if the Mariners hadn’t fueled their collapse Monday with three costly walks in a disastrous four-run seventh inning, there’s no way to know whether they could have found their way past Houston ace Dallas Keuchel.
Those three walks — two were strategic intentional walks — simply made things easy for Keuchel and the Astros in a 6-2 victory at Safeco Field. It also meant the Mariners wasted another strong start from Erasmo Ramirez.
Keuchel has been erratic in seven previous starts since returning from a seven-week stay on the disabled list because of a pinched nerve in his neck. What the Mariners saw, though, was the Keuchel they’ve seen way too often.
“That’s vintage Dallas,” Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. “When he’s good, he’s throwing strikes, he’s down in the zone, he challenges them with balls having to be put in play on the ground.”
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The Mariners nicked Keuchel (12-3) for one run in the first inning on three singles but managed just one other run — a Kyle Seager homer — over 7-2/3 innings before Houston’s bullpen recorded the final four outs.
The loss dropped the Mariners back to .500 at 69-69, but they remained 2-1/2 games behind Minnesota in the race for the American League’s final wild-card berth. The Twins lost at Tampa Bay.
Ramirez battled Keuchel on even terms in limiting the Astros to two runs and four hits over six innings. Those runs came on solo homers in the fifth by Yuli Gurriel and Brian McCann.
“The first one to Gurriel,” Ramirez said, “that was down, but his swing leans forward. So whatever is in the middle of the strike zone and down, he’s comfortable handling. That pitch was a little comfortable for him.
“The other was one was a really big mistake. That was a changeup floating in the middle and high to a big guy. McCann has power. He just crushed it.”
Even so, it was 2-2 when Marc Rzepczynski (2-1) replaced Ramirez to start the seventh inning and began mucking things up by allowing a single and walk before exiting.
Normally reliable Nick Vincent (a 1.87 ERA) replaced Rzepczynski and got an out on Cameron Maybin’s sacrifice before the Mariners opted for an intentional walk to George Springer.
Alex Bregman spoiled the strategy by punching a two-run double to right.
“It was a decent pitch to Bregman,” Vincent said, “but it’s got to be a better pitch than that. He was looking out and over (the plate), and he got a pitch where he got his bat out front and got a base-hit.”
After another intentional walk, to Jose Altuve, reloaded the bases, Vincent struck out Carlos Correa, but Josh Reddick poked a two-run single to center. Houston led 6-2. Dan Altavilla replaced Vincent and got the inning’s final out.
“I don’t know if you do (the intentional walks) every time,” manager Scott Servais said. “Looking at the situations, Springer is having a heck of a year. So take a shot at Bregman. And Bregman hit a ball off the end of the bat. It happens.
“With Altuve coming up, second and third, he’s leading the league in hitting. So go to the next guy … I thought it was the right way to go. (Vincent) made good pitches. We just didn’t get good results today.”
Keuchel is 7-3 with an 2.85 ERA in 11 starts against the Mariners since the start of the 2014 season — or roughly the point when he was labeled an “average pitcher” by former Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon.
“He’s an accomplished left-handed starter with a good sinker,” Servais said. “He got it done against us today. It’s not just the sinker. It’s the changeup. He reads the bat very well. He makes adjustments throughout the course of the game.”
Six times 20: Seager’s homer in the sixth inning, which pulled the Mariners into a 2-2 tie, was his 20th of the season and marked the sixth straight year that he’s reached that milestone.
Seager is just the fourth player in franchise history to achieve the six straight seasons of 20 or more homers. Jay Buhner (1991-97) and Edgar Martinez (1995-2001) each had seven-year runs.
Ken Griffey Jr. hit 20 or more homers in nine seasons but not consecutively. Buhner and Martinez each did it eight times overall. They are the only other Mariners with at least six 20-homer seasons.
Killing the W: Proponents of the movement to kill the “Win” (and presumably the “Loss”) for pitchers can point to the Mariners’ support for Ramirez in building their case.
Ramirez has a 2.40 ERA over his last five starts (eight earned runs in 30 innings) and just one victory to show for it. He got a no-decision Monday after limiting the Astros to two runs and four hits in six innings.
Beyond the game: The video board showed a number of fans holding up various “Houston Strong” signs in support of the city’s recovery efforts from Hurricane Harvey before the Astros came to bat in the second inning.
The crowd of 20,108 responded with a loud round of applause.
Good show, Safeco.
Bob Dutton: @TNT_Mariners