By Ryan Divish The News Tribune
HOUSTON — The numbers are simple and unflattering.
With the 3-2 victory over Seattle on Wednesday night at Minute Maid Field, Houston now has a 3-2 record against the Mariners this season. The Astros’ record against the rest of the teams in baseball? That would be 3-12.
It’s not exactly confidence-inspiring to the Mariners’ fan base.
The Astros came into the season regarded as potentially one of the worst teams in baseball history. They have a payroll around $20 million, lowest in baseball. Some experts predicted that this team dubbed “The Lastros” could break the record of 120 losses in a season set by the New York Mets in 1962.
And Mariners have now lost to them three times — including twice at Safeco Field. A loss to Houston on Wednesday leaves Seattle with two lost series against the hapless Astros.
“We’ve got to do a better job of finding ways to win ball games,” said Mariners manager Eric Wedge, whose team has not won back-to-back games since the first two games of the season.
“You have to put yourself in better position to win ball games. It’s tough to fight through every ball game like we have been.”
The Mariners got an admirable performance from starter Hisashi Iwakuma. The right-hander, who is still battling blister issues on the middle finger of his throwing hand, pitched five innings, giving up three runs — two earned — on six hits with three walks and a season-high 11 strikeouts. But he never felt comfortable on the mound.
“Overall, I thought my pitches were just OK,” Iwakuma said through translator Antony Suzuki. “I left the ball up in the zone and I couldn’t get the ball down in the zone for strikes. That cost me today. I couldn’t find my own rhythm to get into a good groove.”
The Astros got to Iwakuma in the first inning when Raul Ibanez misplayed a Chris Carter single off the wall in left field, allowing Jason Castro to score from first.
In the third inning, Iwakuma gave up a solo home run to No. 9 hitter Marwin Gonzalez and then later hit Castro on the hand with the bases loaded to score another run.
“It’s was two-seamer that got away,” Iwakuma said.
With runners on second and third and two outs, Wedge had called for Iwakuma to intentionally walk left-handed swinging Carlos Pena in the at-bat before to load the bases. Wedge liked the match-up between Iwakuma and Castro better. It backfired.
“I thought we were in good shape,” Wedge said. “It was a better matchup for us. Kuma isn’t a guy you worry about walking anyone, much less hit a guy. But that’s what happened there.”
The blister got worse as Iwakuma’s pitch count grew. Wedge had to take him out after the fifth inning and 93 pitches.
“It’s still an issue,” Wedge said. “He will have to make his next start on regular rest and after that we will be able to give him a couple extra days with the upcoming off day.”
The Mariners bullpen kept the Astros to three runs using the unlikeliest combination for success — Hector Noesi, Charlie Furbush, Yoervis Medina and Oliver Perez.
The quartet didn’t allow a run for the final three innings despite a few scoring opportunities. But the effort mattered not. A day after scoring seven runs and blasting three homers, the Mariners’ offense managed just the two runs on nine hits.
“The at-bats are getting better, but we are still going to have to do better than that,” Wedge said
The Mariners got a run in the second inning to tie the score 1-1 when Dustin Ackley singled to right, and later scored on Endy Chavez’s double to right field off Houston starter Bud Norris.
Seattle didn’t score again until the eighth when Kendrys Morales belted a pitch to left field up on to the railroad tracks some 25 feet above the wall. For all the majesty of the shot, it was worth only one run. The Mariners went down quietly in the ninth as Astros closer Hector Ambriz struck out Jesus Montero, got Ackley to ground out and struck out Robert Andino.
Seattle had its chances.
Raul Ibanez came up in the first inning with two outs and the bases loaded, but grounded out to end the inning. In the third, he came up with two outs and runners on the corners and flied out to left field. He is now hitting .160 (8-for-50) with 14 strikeouts.
Seattle had runners on first and second with one out in the fifth inning and Michael Morse struck out and Smoak’s long blast to center field was hauled in by Justin Maxwell.
“We hit some balls hard, but we didn’t get the job done,” Smoak said. “It’s as simple as that.”