By Ryan Divish and Kelly Ward / The Seattle Times
With all due respect to Alex De Goti, Aledmys Diaz, Jason Castro, Ronnie Dawson, Chase McCormick, and Taylor Jones, the Mariners finally faced the real Houston Astros for the first time in the 2021 season.
And the result? Well, it was a similar outcome to many of Seattle’s games at Minute Maid Park over the past five seasons — defeat.
Ten days ago, the Astros limped into T-Mobile Park with a pieced-together team featuring far too many rookies and replacement-level players for a team expected to contend for the American League West title.
Five players were placed on the COVID-19 injured list on April 14, two days before the series with Seattle, including regulars Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman, Yordan Alvarez and Martin Maldonado. That’s an All-Star second baseman, who was the AL MVP in 2017 and consistent torturer of Mariners pitching, an All-Star third baseman, who finished second in MVP voting in 2019 and also terrorizes the Mariners, a slugging designated, who was the AL rookie of the year in 2019 and a Gold Glove catcher that shuts down running games.
Houston exited Seattle three days later having lost the three-game series, part of a 1-9 stretch of futility.
Had those four players still been on the COVID-19 injured list, the outcome might have changed for the Mariners in what ended up being a 5-2 defeat against the Astros on Monday night.
The quartet of Altuve, Bregman, Alvarez and Maldonado accounted for a combined seven hits, three runs scored, three runs batted in.
But it’s also their presence in the lineup that makes things much easier for Michael Brantley, Carlos Correa and Yuli Gurriel, who tried and failed to carry the Astros offensive load in their absence. Those three players, batting in their normal slots, combined for six hits, a run scored and a run batted in.
The restored Houston lineup banged around Seattle starter Justus Sheffield for five runs (four earned) on 12 hits with a walk and four strikeouts. Sheffield had zero command of his slider, which is his best pitch. Of the 27 sliders he threw, only 11 were strikes. And of those 11, he had two called strikes, one swing and miss, two foul balls and six balls put in play. It basically left Sheffield with his sinking fastball and a changeup that’s still a work in progress. That’s difficult against a lineup of veteran hitters, who have had produced at the MLB level before the aid of a centerfield camera and a trashcan.
The Astros grabbed a quick 2-0 lead in the first inning. Altuve led off the game with a single, stole second base and scored on Alvarez’s deep double off a hanging slider form Sheffield. Gurriel followed with a RBI single through the left side.
The Mariners trimmed the lead to 2-1 in the third inning. Kyle Lewis hit his first homer of the season, sending a prodigious blast over the wall in center field. Statcast measured the distance at 428 feet.
Houston answered with two runs in the fourth when Altuve singled to left to score a pair of runs to make it 4-1.
Seattle’s only other run came on Kyle Seager’s solo homer to right-center.