Just when, out of nowhere really, the Mariners’ rotation clicks into an effective groove, the club’s generally reliable bullpen turns to spit. For a third straight game.
Cameron Maybin sliced a two-run homer off the right-field foul pole Wednesday night in the ninth inning against Edwin Diaz that lifted Houston to a 5-3 victory and a sweep of the three-game series at Safeco Field.
"When I saw the fly ball," Diaz said, "I thought it was a foul ball. Then when it hit the yellow (pole), it was like, `Oh, my gosh.’"
That’s the Mariners in three words right now: Oh, my gosh.
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All three losses were achingly similar.
It was Maybin whose two-run homer Tuesday against reliever Emilio Pagan powered the Astros to a 3-1 victory. On Monday, the bullpen turned a tie game into a 6-2 loss in the series opener.
"We’ve got the right guys out there," manager Scott Servais insisted. "They’re the guys who have carried us all year… The Astros were a little bit better."
The sum total was a three-game disaster that pushes the Mariners’ flickering postseason aspirations to the brink. They are now 69-71 with 22 games remaining and trail Minnesota by 3 1/2 games in the race for the final wild-card berth.
Plus there are now five other clubs between the Mariners and the Twins. The latest computer calculation by www.FiveThirtyEight.com pegs the Mariners’ postseason chances at 3 percent.
"A disappointing series," Servais said. "No doubt. I thought we were right in every game. We just didn't get big hits late, and that’s what it takes to beat the good teams. It’s timely hitting."
The Mariners didn’t get many big hits, period. They scored just six runs in the three games and, in the process, wasted three quality starts from a patchwork rotation.
Andrew Moore gave up two runs Wednesday in six innings in what was arguably his best major-league start. Ariel Miranda gave up one run Tuesday in six no-hit innings, and Erasmo Ramirez gave up two runs over six innings in Monday’s loss.
That’s five runs in 18 innings over the last three games from the rotation, and those six strong innings from Moore were truly an unexpected bonus.
Moore had not pitched more than four innings since late July — in part because the Mariners put the Triple-A Tacoma rotation on limited pitch counts in order to keep them available for an immediate recall in recent weeks.
"Those last two innings were kind of tough," he said. "I had to fight and slow down the pace. We knew they were an extremely aggressive team, especially on fastballs, but that’s my strength.
"I knew I was going to go after them and challenge them."
Moore handed a 3-2 lead to Marc Rzepczynski to start the seventh inning, but Rzepczynski immediately found trouble when Marwin Gonzalez led off with a double to right.
A one-out walk to Max Stassi, a .188 hitter, put runners at first and second and prompted a change to Nick Vincent. While Vincent struck out Maybin, George Springer served a soft liner into center fielder for a game-tying single.
"For whatever reason," Servais said, "the seventh inning was our Achilles’ heel in this series. It got us. They put some good at-bats together. We weren’t able to finish guys off."
The Astros roughed up Rzepczynski and Vincent for those four runs Monday in the seventh inning. On Tuesday, it was 1-1 in the seventh when Pagan served up a two-run homer to Maybin.
On Wednesday, Diaz inherited a 3-3 tie in the ninth inning but gave up a leadoff double to Carlos Beltran. One out later, Maybin hit the foul pole.
Oh, my gosh.
***Too little punch: It took a while for the Mariners to solve Houston starter Lance McCullers, who returned from a 34-game absence that stemmed from an ailing back.
McCullers retired the first 11 Mariners before Robinson Cano reached on a two-out walk in the fourth inning. The Mariners didn’t get their first hit until Kyle Seager led off the fifth with a 410-foot drive to center for his 22nd homer.
But Jean Segura’s leadoff triple ignited a two-run sixth inning that gave the Mariners a brief 3-2 lead. Overall, though, the Mariners managed little in the three games: six runs and 20 hits.
"We need to get it going offensively," Servais said. "I do have to credit Houston. They pitched very well in this series. The three starters they ran at us (Dallas Keuchel, Justin Verlander and McCullers) are among the top echelon in the league.
"We didn’t get a ton going against them, but we were in the games. That’s what is frustrating. We’re right in the games. We just didn’t get the something to get us over the hump late."
***Nice arm, but…: Missing one relay man happens more than it should in the big leagues, but it’s not often that an outfielder overthrows two infielders.
Center fielder Guillermo Heredia managed to do so after running down Gonzalez’s one-out drive into the right-center gap with runners at first and second in the fourth inning.
Josh Reddick was going to score easily from second, but the Mariners should have had a play on Yuli Gurriel’s attempt to score from first if Heredia hadn’t airmailed the throw over Cano and Segura.
The ball rolled through the infield, and Gurriel scored easily. No error. For Moore, both runs were earned but not entirely deserved.
***Two hands: More than most outfielders, Ben Gamel tends to use two hands whenever possible in catching fly balls. He didn’t on Reddick’s two-out fly to left field in the sixth inning — and he dropped the ball for an error.
Moore pitched around the mistake by retiring Gurriel on a grounder to second for the inning’s final out.
Bob Dutton: @TNT_Mariners