Let’s start with the good news. The Mariners are still just two games back in the American League wild-card race with five games remaining.
But Tuesday was a bad night. The Mariners threw away a chance to draw closer to their first postseason appearance in 15 years by imploding in a six-run sixth inning that boosted Houston to an 8-4 victory at Minute Maid Park.
“Guys are disappointed, obviously,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said. “We knew we came in having to win this series, and get help. We’re kind of in the same boat.
“We have a chance to win the series (Wednesday), and we still need some help.”
They could have helped themselves Tuesday. Instead, Felix Hernandez’s reputation as a big-game pitcher took another hit. While he was sabotaged in the sixth by two costly errors, he also gave up five hits in the inning.
Even so, the King insisted he threw well. “After the (two-run) first inning,” Hernandez said, “I was making good pitches. In the sixth, I think I threw good pitches. A broken-bat single by (Alex) Bregman. I think I made a good pitch to (George) Springer, but he hit the ball to the right-field line.”
Hernandez carried a 4-2 lead into the inning and had allowed just one hit since Houston’s two-run first. But the Astros stirred to life when Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa opened the inning with singles.
Evan Gattis struck out on a check swing, and Hernandez should have been out of the inning when Yuli Gurriel hit a potential double-play grounder to shortstop Ketel Marte.
But Marte, after stepping on second for the force, threw wildly to first base. The error permitted Altuve to score.
“It was a big mistake,” Marte admitted. “I don’t know what to talk about. I mean, it was a routine double play. It’s kind of hard. If I make the double play, the game is 4-2 and we (probably) win.”
Instead, the inning continued, and Tony Kemp battled back from a 1-2 hole for a walk. Bregman batted for Jason Castro and lined a game-tying single to left.
Hernandez again should have been out of the inning when Jake Marisnick hit a check-swing grounder to Adam Lind at first, but Lind bobbled the ball – and Marisnick beat him to first. Another error. The Mariners challenged the call, which stood after replay officials decided they didn’t see enough to reverse the call. Afterward, the Mariners were still steamed.
“We didn’t get any help from the replay official,” Servais said. “(Marisnick) was clearly out. I looked at the replay. I’m not quite sure what they’re looking at in New York.”
Then Hernandez buckled.
Springer drove a two-run double to right, and Marwin Gonzalez followed by punching a two-run single up the middle. The Astros led 8-4, and the Mariners replaced Hernandez with Drew Storen.
And that was that. The Houston bullpen protected the lead over the final three innings. Jandel Gustave (1-0) got the victory. The series concludes Wednesday afternoon.
Because Baltimore lost at Toronto, the Mariners remained two games behind the Orioles in the race for the A.L.’s final wild-card berth. But the Mariners also fell one game behind Detroit, which beat Cleveland.
Houston is one one-half game behind the Mariners.
Hernandez (11-7) gave up 10 hits while allowing eight runs — four earned — in 5 2/3 innings. Four runs were unearned. This marks his second showdown loss to the Astros in 11 days.
Those losses join his disappointing 2014 loss at Toronto when the Mariners were also pursuing a postseason berth in the season’s final week.
Hernandez is slotted to pitch Sunday in the regular-season finale. The Mariners can only hope it means something.
“We’re not going to stop,” Lind said. “I believe, and I think the whole team believes, we’ve come this far. There’s no reason to stop now.”
PLAY OF THE GAME: The game turned when shortstop Ketel Marte made a sloppy throwing error on what should have been an inning-ending double play in the sixth inning.
“I just threw the ball,” he said. “I make that play all of the time. I can make that play easy.”
If Marte makes an accurate throw, Felix Hernandez gets out of the inning with no damage, and the Mariners take a 4-2 lead into the seventh inning.
But one run scored on Marte’s error, and the Astros went on to score five more runs. The Mariners never recovered.
PLUS: Robinson Cano pushed his average to .300 by going 2-for-4. He is 11-for-21 through five games on the road trip. ... Nelson Cruz also went 2 for 4 and drove in his 102nd run. He is 10 for 22 with 10 RBIs on the trip. ... Reliever Dan Altavilla pitched a scoreless seventh inning. He has allowed just one earned run in 10 innings in 12 appearances.
MINUS: Shortstop Ketel Marte has 20 errors. The only American League shortstop with more is Oakland’s Marcus Semien who, before Tuesday, had 21 in 348 2/3 more innings. ... Felix Hernandez matched a season-worst by allowing 10 hits. He also allowed 10 on July 20 over 6 2/3 innings against the White Sox. That was his first start after returning from a 7 1/2-week stay on the disabled list because of a strained right calf
STAT PACK: Kyle Seager has hits in 14 straight games at Minute Maid Park. It is the longest current streak at the park. The last visiting player with a longer streak was former Mariners first baseman Logan Morrison, who had an 18-game run from 2011-15.
QUOTABLE: Felix Hernandez is 0-3 against Houston over the last two years while allowing 17 earned runs and 24 hits in 10 1/3 innings.
The Astros scored at least six runs in each of those three games. No other opponent has ever done scored six runs or more in three straight games against Hernandez.
“I’m not going to say it’s not a good lineup,” he said. “I’ve just got to make different pitches and take a different approach, and I’ll be fine.”
SHORT HOPS: Houston starter Mike Fiers gave up four runs and eight hits while throwing 90 pitches in five innings. Just 10 days earlier at Safeco Field, he pitched six shutout innings against the Mariners in a 2-1 victory over James Paxton … the Astros have an 11-7 edge in the season series with one game remaining. They finished last season with a 12-7 advantage.