Mariners bats betrayed them again in a 2-1 loss Saturday to the Houston Astros, who won the first two games of the series, moved into a tie with Seattle in the wild-card standings and may have knocked the Mariners out of the running (box). On a night that drew 32,304, Seattle had a chance to make up ground in the wild-card race, but Houston starter Mike Fiers threw six scoreless innings, then closer Ken Giles finished it off with a 1-2-3 ninth. Seattle starter James Paxton flirted with a perfect game, but Houston pitchers got the win.
Houston LF Teoscar Hernandez broke up Paxton’s bid for a perfect game with a leadoff single in the sixth. Hernandez drilled a liner up the middle, barely missing Paxton’s head, and the big Mariners southpaw quickly unraveled. He gave up a double to the next hitter and a two-run double to Yuri Gurriel for a 2-0 lead.
Paxton retired the first 15 batters and was in total control. He bounced back from the sixth and pitched seven solid innings, allowing two runs off four hits before veterans Evan Scribner and Nick Vincent finished it off.
Seattle’s scoreless streak extended to 18 innings before Seth Smith delivered an RBI double in the eighth. Leadoff hitter Norichika Aoki reached base in each of his four plate appearances, scoring the only run on Smith’s double into the right-center gap.
Aoki went 3 for 3 and is hitting .371 since his most recent recall from Triple-A Tacoma. Heart-of-the-order batters Nelson Cruz and Robinson Cano went 0 for 8 and are 0 for 16 in the series.
Co-leaders Baltimore and Toronto both lost, opening the door for the Mariners to make up ground. The Tigers, tied with Seattle going into the day, lost a heart-breaker on a walk-off single in the 10th inning. The good news for Seattle is they remained three games behind the co-leaders. The bad news is that the Mariners are tied with the Astros.
“It’s unfortunate they bunched up some hits there in the sixth. But we’re going to turn it around here, start getting some hits and start winning games again.” — Paxton
For what it’s worth, new Pirates pitcher Wade LeBlanc pitched three scoreless innings of relief Friday night to earn his first save. Might have been a nice piece to have in the Seattle bullpen . . . Olympic gold-medal winners Sue Bird and Brianna Stewart of the Seattle Storm threw out the joint first pitch. Bird and Stewart stood a few feet apart from each other, in front of the mound, and delivered perfect strikes to a pair of Seattle bench players near home plate.
The finale of the three-game series starts at 1:10 p.m. Sunday afternoon, but the clubs have only eight days before meeting again in Houston. Former Mariner Doug Fister (12-11, 4.17 ERA) starts for the Astros, with rookie lefty Ariel Miranda (4-1, 4.10 ERA) scheduled to start for Seattle. Miranda has a three-start winning streak and has been th most effective pitcher in each of Seattle’s past two home series.