The Mariners enjoyed a brief moment of elation in the fifth inning Sunday when Michael Saunders crushed a two-run homer, giving them a 3-1 lead. But Hisashi Iwakuma, as is becoming his custom, withered under the prosperity, coughed up three quick runs and the Houston Astros went on to bash Seattle for the second consecutive game, 8-3 at Minute Maid Park.
The Mariners (83-72), who entered the day one game behind Oakland and a half game in arrears of Kansas City in the American League wild card race, lost ground to both with the loss. They are now two games behind Oakland (85-70), an 8-6 winner over Philadelphia Sunday, and a game and a half behind the Royals (84-70), who defeated Detroit 5-2. The Mariners have eight to play.
Iwakuma, who has been in a steady slide since an Aug. 19 win over Philadelphia, didn’t make it out of the fifth when the Astros took a 4-3 lead. He dropped three in a row and sports an ERA nearing 10.00 in September.
Iwakuma faced runners in scoring position three times in the four-plus innings he pitched. He dodged his way out of trouble in the second and fourth, but unraveled in the fifth.
The Mariners (82-72) have dropped six of their last nine as they attempt to reach the postseason for the first time since 2001.
“I’m not sure if something is wrong with him,” manager Lloyd McClendon said of Iwakuma. “I thought he’d be a lot sharper. He had six days off.”
Asked if thought Iwakuma had become fatigued at this point in the season, McClendon said, “I don’t know why he would be. He had two months off (at the beginning of the year). We’ve got to figure this out. I’m not sure what’s going on, but we got to get it figured out very quickly. Everybody goes through ruts through the course of the season, but this isn’t the time to do it.”
Iwakuma started shakily, walking Robbie Grossman. But after Jose Altuve reached on an infield error by Robinson Cano, Iwakuma fanned Chris Carter and Dexter Fowler before retiring Alex Presley on a ground ball. Iwakuma threw 23 pitches in the first, a sign of things to come.
He wasn’t as lucky in the second. After Iwakuma allowed back-to-back singles to Jake Marisnick and Gregorio Petit, Jonathan Villar advanced both runners. Iwakuma’s wild pitch, a split in the dirt, scored Marisnick, giving Houston a 1-0 lead.
The Mariners equalized 1-1 in the third when, following singles by Saunders and Mike Zunino, Brad Miller’s fielder’s choice plated Saunders.
Following Iwakuma’s fourth, when he walked leadoff hitter Presley and then struck out the side, Logan Morrison worked a one-out walk off Collin McHugh as a prelude to Saunders’ two-run homer deep into the right-field seats.
The lead didn’t last long. After walking Villar, and Grossman’s single to right, Altuve drilled an RBI double down the line in left. Iwakuma intentionally walked Carter to load the bases, but surrendered a two-run single to Presley. With Houston leading 4-3 and Iwakuma having thrown 88 pitches, McClendon yanked him, inserting Carson Smith, who fanned two to end the inning.
Iwakuma worked 4.1 innings, allowed four earned runs on six hits, struck out eight and walked a season-high three. The wild pitch he threw was only his second of the year.
The Astros busted it open with three runs in the seventh, the big blow Marisnick’s three-run homer off Yoervis Medina, and added an insurance run in the ninth with a pair of infield singles and a Medina wild pitch.
Seeking his 15th win, Iwakuma hasn’t pitched beyond the sixth inning since Aug. 19 when he had 11 strikeouts in eight innings. In his last three, Iwakuma worked 4.1, 3.1 and 4.1 innings . . . The home run by Saunders in the fifth inning, his seventh of the season, was his first since July 7 against Minnesota . . . The Mariners hit into seven double plays during the three-game series (three Friday, three Saturday, one Sunday) . . . Altuve’s 219th hit, off Iwakuma in the fifth inning, is the most by a second baseman since Charlie Gehringer in 1936 . . . Mariners finished the season 10-9 against the Astros.
The Mariners begin a four-game series at Toronto Monday. LHP James Paxton (6-3, 2.06) will face LHP J.A. Happ (9-11, 4.35). First pitch is scheduled for 4:05 p.m.