The Mariners closed their homestand Thursday little resembling the team that began it on a roll last week.
Hot bats were cold, the relievers seemed more inclined to create problems than solve them, and the not-quite-aligned defense’s failure to convert key plays into outs led to deficits the offense could not make up
But as the Mariners packed for a 10-day road trip that will take them to Texas, Chicago and Cleveland, there was some consolation: They won’t have to face the Houston Astros again for another six weeks.
Scott Servais had hoped the series against the defending World Series champions would show how his team has closed the gap on the opponents who last season finished 14-5 against Seattle. But after James Paxton’s strong start in a 2-1 victory, the Astros stomped on the Mariners and kicked them to the curb, winning the next games three by a collective score of 20-4.
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“We didn’t get a whole lot going,” Servais said after the 9-2 defeat Thursday, when Houston right-hander Charlie Morton followed the cues of fellow starters Lance McCullers and Gerritt Cole in dominating what had been a potent batting attack.
“We were in all the games – a pitch here, a play there – but you’ve got to do more offensively, and we didn’t. It’s a long season. There’s going to be cycles. You get hot and cold and everything in between. I like our club, but to stay in games, you’re going to have to score some runs.”
As far as winning games, a team must avoid the kind of defensive breakdowns that on Thursday turned a 0-0 score in the top of the fifth inning into a 4-0 Astros lead. The Mariners problems began when Alex Bergman reached on an error by third baseman Kyle Seager. The next batter, Marvin Gonzalez, then hit a shot off Seager’s glove.
It was ruled a hit but served as an example of plays that need to be made in order to beat the Houston Astros.
Seager’s missed chances preceded a high fly ball, off the bat of Jose Altuve, that landed over the head of right fielder Mitch Haniger. Again, no error was charged, but Haniger had time, and room, to make a catch. Instead, three runs scored.
“Should it have been caught? Yeah,” said Servais. “When the ball is in the air that long, it should be caught. That changed the outcome of the inning and the game.
“We’ve talked all year to the guys about the importance of making plays you’ve got to make. You have to make those plays at the big-league level. You can’t give them extra outs. They’re not all easy plays, by any means, but when the ball is in the air that long, you’ve got to corral it and turn it into an out.”
Between the fielding lapses and the listless lineup – Mariners batters combined to strike out 10 times, with one walk – the only bright spot in the series finale was the effort of pitcher Marco Gonzales. The former Gonzaga star struck out eight, the most the left-handed starter has recorded since he was obtained in a trade with the Cardinals last July, before Servais replaced him with Dan Altavilla for a righty-on-righty matchup against Altuve.
“It happens, that’s baseball,” said of the fateful fifth inning. “That’s the way the ball rolls. It’s not always going to roll in your favor. If it did, I don’t think we’d love the game so much.”
The previous inning, Gonzales benefited from that confluence of quirks that produce baseball’s rarest moment, the triple play. What appeared to be a double play executed between Seager and second baseman Robinson Cano turned into three outs when the batter, Evan Gattis, strolled off first and was tagged by Daniel Vogelbach.
“I had no idea what was going on,” said Gonzales, “but I’ll take it.”
There wasn’t much else to take from a series that loomed as a showdown and will be recalled as a beat down.
“We’ve been playing very good ball and we got shut down for a couple of days,” concluded Servais. “It’s a long season and that’s a very good team over there. We know that, and we’re going to play them a lot. We need to learn from the experience – how they they attacked us, how they held us – and hopefully we’ll be better off the next time we see them.”
That would be June 5, otherwise known as Too Soon.