HOUSTON — Say we’re discussing existential philosophy. Or metaphysical possibilities. Theoretical truths. Women. Or something else most of us don’t understand. (Hand up.)
We might learn that, yes, it’s possible that things could have gone worse Friday night in the first inning for the Seattle Mariners in what turned into a 10-0 loss to the Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park.
Or maybe not.
This was a freaking fiasco on an epic scale. Not only unprecedented but pretty much unfathomable.
Mariners ace Felix Hernandez, the long-hailed King, faced nine hitters and gave up eight runs before making the shortest non-injury departure in his 11-year career.
“It was a blink of the eye,” he said. “It was 6-0 in 16 pitches. My fault. I killed the bullpen, too. It’s on me. This is the worst start of my career.”
Hernandez insisted he was healthy.
“I felt way better than in the last two starts,” he said. “I don’t know what happened. Being honest, I don’t really know.”
The Astros hit two homers and took advantage of three defensive (let’s call them) misplays in a comprehensive first-inning collapse by the Mariners at the outset of what looms as their biggest series to date.
First-place Houston entered the weekend on a seven-game losing streak. The Mariners, after winning two of three in Cleveland, saw this series as a chance to creep closer in the standings.
(That’s still possible, of course, if they can win the final two games.)
But here, on Friday, the Mariners had Felix cued up for the opener against lefty Brett Oberholtzer, who had lost 18 of his previous 23 decisions over the last three seasons.
The Vegas folks typically characterize such match-ups as “No Line.”
Oberholtzer opened the game by retiring the Mariners on two infield grounders and a strikeout. And then…
Jose Altuve beat out a routine grounder to shortstop Willie Bloomquist for a leadoff single. It should been an out.
“Heck yeah, he was quicker than I thought,” Bloomquist said. “I fielded the ball, made the throw, looked up and he was past the base. I’ve played with some quick guys, but nothing like that.”
Hernandez followed with a four-pitch walk to Preston Tucker. George Springer then squirted a grounder past first (VIDEO LINK) and took second when right fielder Mark Trumbo inexplicably threw to first behind the runner.
“The double down the right-field line was a good pitch,” Hernandez said. “After the double, I don’t know what happened.”
Here’s what happened: Evan Gattis hit a topper back to the mound, but Hernandez threw wildly to the plate. (VIDEO LINK)
Tucker scored as the ball got past catcher Mike Zunino; and when Hernandez didn’t cover the plate, Springer raced home from second. Gattis wound up on second.
It was 3-0.
Hernandez walked Colby Rasmus before recording his only out by striking out celebrated rookie Carlos Correa in his home debut.
It was a temporary reprieve because Luis Valbuena followed with a 415-foot homer to center. (VIDEO LINK) That made it 6-0.
“(Hernandez) had his stuff,” Zunino said. “At times, he was up, but when we don’t get ahead (in the count) on a team like this, which really swings the bat well, even 2-1 and 3-0 becomes a big hitters’ count for them.”
The Astros kept coming.
Chris Carter grounded a single through the left side, and Jason Castro followed by lofting a high fly (VIDEO LINK) to left that found the Crawford Boxes above the 19-foot scoreboard wall.
A two-run homer, and it was 8-0.
“I was just getting hit,” Hernandez said. “The homer to Castro was unbelievable. I mean, it was one of those days.”
That was Hernandez’s 31st and final pitch. Manager Lloyd McClendon summoned Joe Beimel as the Astros turned over their lineup.
“I was not going to stress (Hernandez) any more,” McClendon said. “It just made no sense.”
It matched the shortest outing of Hernandez’s 11-year career.
He also lasted just one-third of an inning on April 18, 2007 against Minnesota at Safeco Field, but he left that game because of a strained forearm and didn’t pitch again for about a month.
The eight earned runs also matched a career-worst for Hernandez (9-3), who also gave up on Aug. 28, 2013 over three innings in a 12-4 loss to Texas at Safeco Field.
So, yes, by any measure, this was the worst game in Hernandez’s 316 career starts. And it’s probably not close. A relay of five relievers worked the final 7 2/3 innings — four pitchers and backup catcher Jesus Sucre.
It’s fitting, somehow, that Sucre worked a scoreless inning.
Hernandez’s meltdown largely masked another punchless effort by the Mariners’ attack, which scored fewer than four runs for the 15th time in 16 games.
After getting just two hits in Thursday’s 6-0 loss at Cleveland, the Mariners got only three in eight innings against Oberholtzer (1-1) and one in the ninth against Joe Thatcher.
The Mariners are also now winless this season in five games at Minute Maid and 1-7 overall against the Astros. So, again, can it get worse?