The last time the Mariners met the Houston Astros at T-Mobile Park, Seattle opened the series on April 12 with Major League Baseball’s best record at 13-2.
In the fewer than two months since, those same Mariners have posted baseball’s worst record (12-36).
The Astros, likewise, are not the same team that swept Seattle in mid-April. Houston entered the game Monday with arguably its three biggest bats — Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa and George Springer — stashed away on the injured list.
And yet, the Astros didn’t need stars to squeak past the lowly Mariners on Monday.
In fact, all they really needed was 16 minutes.
That’s the time it took Houston to post three runs against Mariners “opener” Cory Gearrin — who made his first career start Monday — in the top of the first inning of an eventual 4-2 victory. It started with a one-out walk to Alex Bregman, who promptly stole second base. Designated hitter Josh Reddick then sent a deep liner into the gap in right-center. Mariners center fielder Mallex Smith took an inefficient angle, failed to close the distance and capped the trip with a futile dive. The ball shot past him and bounded to the wall, while Reddick coasted into third with a run-scoring triple.
Following an RBI groundout by Yuli Gurriel, catcher Robinson Chirinos clobbered a 92 mph fastball in the middle of the plate. The accompanying crack radiated through (a mostly empty) T-Mobile Park, and the baseball caromed off the scoreboard beyond the fence in left field.
All told, Gearrin allowed three earned runs on two hits, a homer and a walk to take the loss.
“It’s an adjustment,” Gearrin said of his role pitching the first inning Monday. “But your job’s to go out and pitch and put up zeroes. There’s no excuse for it. You go out, execute. I felt like I made some good pitches. Those guys took some good two-strike pitches and put the ball in play and got some runs on the board.
“It’s frustrating, but going forward this is part of the game. You’re seeing it more and more. So as a pitcher you have to figure out how to go out and get ready and adjust on the fly.”
So, if you’re keeping score at home, the first inning provided 1) a mammoth homer, 2) a walk, 3) a stolen base, and 4) a disastrous defensive play.
Or, in other words, it provided many of the appropriate squares in Bad Mariners Bingo.
You might remember that the Good Mariners — the 13-2 Mariners, the pre-Astros Mariners, the Mirage Mariners, etc. etc. — also had a habit for hitting homers. Seattle entered the game with 106 homers on the season, second-best in baseball. That trend continued Monday, as Smith and Edwin Encarnacion each registered solo dingers in the bottom of the third to narrow the deficit to 3-2.
But you know that phrase, “The best offense is a good defense”?
The Astros’ best offense was the Mariners’ defense Monday night.
That was again apparent in the top of the sixth, when Reddick followed a Bregman double with a fisted fly ball to short center. Smith stood there, staring at it — one Mississippi, two Mississippi — before finally breaking forward toward the baseball. He unleashed another daring dive, and again came up with nothing but grass stains. Bregman advanced to third on what was generously ruled a one-out Reddick single.
Houston’s next hitter, Gurriel, bounced a routine grounder to short, and Bregman broke for home. Seattle shortstop Dylan Moore fielded it cleanly, gathered and threw accurately to the plate.
But the Mariners’ catcher, Omar Narvaez, was nowhere to be found.
For reasons only Narvaez knows, the first-year Mariner ran up the baseline, presumably to back up first. Moore’s throw bounced to the backstop, Bregman scored safely and the Mariners were rightfully serenaded with a smattering of boos.
“He vacated home plate too soon, obviously,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said after the game. “It was a strange play. I’ve actually had that play happen to me as a catcher, believe it or not. Same exact thing, and I learned a lesson. I think Omar did tonight, too.
“But when the ball’s hit the first thing you’re thinking is, ‘It’s a double play.’ Dylan actually made the right read. He wasn’t going to be able to turn a double play on that. He made a very athletic throw to the plate and Omar just vacated too early.”
It didn’t help, of course, that Seattle also stranded 10 men on base and finished 0 for 8 with runners in scoring position. In doing so, the Mariners wasted an excellent outing from veteran left-hander Wade LeBlanc, who allowed just three hits and one earned run in eight innings of sparkling relief. Rookie second baseman Shed Long also finished 2 for 3 with a double, a walk and a pair of stolen bases.
“Wade threw the ball really well,” Servais said. “Certainly that’s the best outing he’s had I think all year. He put in a good change up, was mixing (pitches), got ahead in counts and was very efficient with his pitches. So a really good outing by him.”
But LeBlanc couldn’t compensate for 16 minutes of Mariner incompetence. One bad inning ultimately sunk Seattle’s ship.
Bradford placed on 10-day injured list
Mariners reliever Chasen Bradford was recalled from Class AAA Tacoma on May 31.
It was not an extended stay.
Bradford — who made two appearances in the past three days, allowing two runs on a pair of solo home runs in three innings pitched — was placed on the 10-day injured list Monday with a right forearm strain. Matt Festa has been recalled from Tacoma to take his place.
In his past seven games with the Rainiers, Festa has not allowed a run while recording two saves, striking out 10, walking four and limiting opponents to a .080 batting average. In seven games across two stints with the Mariners this season, the 26-year-old right-hander has allowed six earned runs in nine innings pitched (6.00 ERA), striking out six and walking five.
In 12 games with the big club, Bradford has posted a 4.86 ERA, surrendering 17 hits and nine earned runs in 16.2 innings pitched.