What started as a promising road trip is now teetering near a fiasco. Overstatement? Perhaps. But it was fair to wonder if this once-hyped Mariners team is built for success Saturday while they were routed 11-4 by the upstart Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park (box score). Seattle’s third loss in a row dropped it to 3-3 on its road trip and 10-14 overall, while Houston, winners of nine in a row, improved to 17-7.
Needn’t look further than the diminutive Jose Altuve. With Houston leading 5-3 in the bottom of the fourth, the reigning American League batting champion hit a three-run homer off Taijuan Walker to break open a close game.
It’s a bad combination when a pitcher’s fastball is up in the strike zone and his off-speed stuff isn’t deceptive.
Taijuan Walker (1-3) had both working against him Saturday. The 22-year-old allowed eight runs, seven earned, over a season-low three innings. Staked to a 3-0 lead, he yielded two in the second, three in the third on back-to-back homers — a two-run shot from Evan Gattis and a solo shot from Colby Rasmus — before Altuve’s blast knocked him out of the game.
Reliever Yoervis Medina, shaky all season, came in and allowed a Luis Valbuena solo homer.
Houston’s final two runs came on an RBI double from Marwin Gonzalez in the sixth and Hank Conger’s two-run homer, Houston’s fifth blast of the game, in the seventh.
Another day, another incredible Nelson Cruz power display gone to waste.
The right fielder/designated hitter blasted solo home runs in the second and sixth — his 12th and 13th of the season — to extend his MLB lead and bring his RBI total to 25, tops in the majors. The former was followed by a solo shot from Logan Morrison, and later in the inning the embattled Mike Zunino added an opposite-field solo shot to make it 3-0.
Cruz’s second homer left the park entirely.
The Mariners offense again did too little despite the four homers, all solo shots, as RHP Collin McHugh (4-0) went seven innings to pick up the win.
“It’s a tough loss but it’s only one loss,” said manager Lloyd McClendon. “We’ll get ready for tomorrow.”
The Mariners fell seven games behind the Astros in the AL West . . . This season, Seattle is 1-5 against Houston . . . Cruz finished 3-for-4 with two runs and two RBIs to lift his average to .347. Of his 13 homers, 10 are solo shots. The 13 homers in the first 24 games ties him with Ken Griffey Jr. (’97) for a club record . . . Zunino’s homer was his third of the season, but his batting average is .136 . . . The Astros have won 13 of their last 14 and have the best record in the AL . . . The Mariners committed three errors . . . The nine combined homers was a Minute Maid Park record.
The Mariners turn to LHP J.A. Happ (2-1, 2.30 ERA), their most consistent pitcher this season, at 11:10 a.m. PT against Astros RHP Roberto Hernandez (1-2, 3.80 ERA) as Seattle tries to avoid the sweep. Happ, 32, has recorded a quality start in all five outings. The Astros haven’t lost since Happ beat them April 22 in a 3-2 Mariners’ win at Safeco Field.