It seemed that when the Seattle Mariners were not striking out on Sunday afternoon against the Houston Astros, they were leaving the bases loaded. Sometimes, they did both at once.
There were defensive failures, too, including miscues that helped the Astros score runs in the first and fifth innings. The Mariners committed four errors total. They misplayed a bunt. They lost a routine fly ball in the sun. They allowed two home runs, including a seventh-inning grand slam by Carlos Gomez that really blew the game wide open. They also stranded 10 runners on base and hit into five double plays.
Other than that, they played OK.
“Hands down,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said, “the worst game we’ve played all year.”
Indeed, this 8-1 victory by the Astros before a crowd of 27,322 at Safeco Field represented the Mariners’ most dreadful performance of the season. Houston now sits four games ahead of the third-place Mariners for second place in the American League West after taking two of three games in Seattle over the weekend. The Astros also swept the Mariners in Houston earlier this month.
“We played a terrible ballgame,” Servais continued. “You can’t sugarcoat that. It is what it is. Disappointing. Disheartening. Whatever. It’s going to happen maybe once a year (that) you play a game like that. You just hope it’s not against a team that’s in front of you in the standings.”
Astros (50-42) starter Collin McHugh earned the victory after striking out 10 batters in six scoreless innings. He allowed only four hits, and the Mariners couldn’t make him pay for walking four batters and hitting another with a pitch.
It was via two walks and a hit batter that Seattle loaded the bases with one out in the first inning. Then Kyle Seager struck out — after crushing a pitch just foul up the right-field line — and Dae-Ho Lee grounded out to the pitcher.
The Mariners (46-46) again loaded the bases with nobody out in the third, after Nelson Cruz’s wall-scraping single failed to score Leonys Martin from second base because it looked as if the ball might be caught. It wasn’t, and Servais said afterward that Martin should not have been so close to second base on such a fly. Then Seager followed with another strikeout, and Lee grounded into a 4-6-3 double play to end the inning.
“You can go down the list,” Servais said. “The missed cutoff man. We don’t throw to the right base. We don’t field bunts. We drop balls. Situational hitting. You can go through the whole list, the gamut today.”
Martin grounded into a double play in the fifth. Lee grounded into another double play in the sixth. Ketel Marte grounded into a double play in the seventh, and another in the ninth. The Mariners didn’t score until Seager’s inconsequential RBI single with two outs in the eighth inning, after which they again left the bases loaded when pinch-hitter Franklin Gutierrez grounded out to third base.
Seattle starter Mike Montgomery didn’t pitch poorly. He struck out seven batters in five innings, though he did allow seven hits, including a two-run homer by Jose Altuve in the third inning. But Seattle’s defense was so bad behind Montgomery that he needed to be nearly perfect for the Mariners to have a chance.
“I was just trying to battle,” Montgomery said. “I knew going into this game these guys were hot, swinging good bats, so just go out there and battle and make good pitches and unfortunately, it wasn’t enough today.”
Seager misplayed a throw from catcher Jesus Sucre on a steal attempt in the first inning by first baseman Marwin Gonzalez, who was able to score as the ball skipped into left field. Houston had runners on second and third with nobody out in the second inning thanks to another error by Seager and a throwing error by left fielder Seth Smith, though Montgomery struck out the next two batters and coaxed a groundout from George Springer to escape unharmed.
The Astros scored again in the fifth after Gonzalez led off with a double, moved to third base on a throwing error by Martin, then scored on Altuve’s soft single to left.
Altuve, who went 4-for-5, led off the seventh with a single and eventually scored when Gomez cranked a bases-loaded pitch from reliever Nathan Karns over the left-field fence.
It was the final blow in a game the Mariners simply never gave themselves a chance to win.
“Losing sucks,” Seager said. “It doesn’t matter necessarily who you’re playing. But it gets amplified when you’re playing somebody that’s ahead of you in your division. That obviously sucks. Today was pretty bad, and we’ll come back tomorrow.”
PLAY OF THE GAME: Houston’s 4-0 lead was probably safe enough, but Gomez removed all doubt by blasting a grand slam off the stairwell behind Houston’s bullpen in the seventh inning.
“I think he just did a great job of hitting the ball where it was located,” Karns said. “In my opinion, I think he was kind of looking for it.”
PLUS: Montgomery lasted five innings despite a rocky start and several errors committed behind him.
“I actually give him a ton of credit,” Servais said. “He could have wilted and fell apart there. It’s not easy, the way we weren’t really helping him behind him. But he got through the second-and-third, nobody-out situation. He punches them out, couple guys, gets out of it. I think it says a lot about him. He kept pitching, kept going, and I give him some credit for that, no doubt.”
MINUS: Where to begin? Four errors. Ten runners left on base. Three innings that ended with the bases full of Mariners. Five double plays. A misplayed bunt. Martin failing to score from second base on a ball that hit off the wall.
STAT PACK: The Mariners scored just five runs during this three-game series against the Astros. … Shawn O’Malley entered the game in the eighth inning as a defensive replacement for Nelson Cruz and nubbed out an infield single in the bottom half of that inning. He’s hitting .367 in his past 17 games with four doubles and four RBIs.