Even before COVID-19 protocols forced four starters — second baseman Jose Altuve, third baseman Alex Bregman, designated hitter Yordan Alvarez and catcher Martin Maldonado — and backup infielder Robel Garcia to the injured list just before the series, the 2021 version of the Houston Astros was seemingly diminished. Justin Verlander was hurt. George Springer left in free agency. And even the aging Josh Reddick, who just signed with the Diamondback, was a missed presence to the team.
Wile players such as Alex De Goti, Chas McCormick, Ronnie Dawson and Taylor Jones who were largely unknown before this weekend and not part of the trash-can hitting antics of past Astros teams, they were guilty by association in the eyes of Mariners fans, intent on voicing their displeasure with the division rival at every at-bat, play and throw to first base.
Regardless of who was on the field or in the lineup for Houston through the course of the weekend series, Sunday’s 7-2 victory — another where the Mariners trailed and rallied — meant a series win over the Astros. And that’s something that hasn’t happened a lot over the past few seasons.
Does it represent a shift in what has been a largely lopsided series since the Astros rose to prominence? Not really. The Mariners still have 16 more games with Houston this season, including four games at Minute Maid Park to close out the upcoming road trip.
Presumably those four starters — all who have given the Mariners serious problems in the past — will return making Houston significantly more formidable.
Still, a series win over a team that’s consistently handled you for an extended period of time can’t be overlooked.
In 2020, the Mariners were 3-7 versus Houston in the shortened season. In 2019, the stacked Astros team that lost to the Nationals in the World Series went 18-1 vs. the Mariners In 2018, Seattle finished with a 10-9 record against the Astros but a 3-7 record at T-Mobile Park.
Trailing 2-1 in the fifth inning, the Mariners exploded for four runs to take a lead they wouldn’t relinquish.
It would take few guesses to figure out those responsible for the outburst of offense. The Mariners’ top of the order, which was stymied by Zack Greinke on Saturday night in a 1-0 loss, erased the memories of a 1-for-12 showing.
After failing to reach base for the first time this season on Saturday night and also having a 13-game his streak snapped, Mitch Haniger started the possibility of new streaks on Sunday. With one out and runners on first and second, Haniger smashed a ball to deep center field off Astros starter Jake Odorizzi.
Astros center fielder Myles Straw got a late jump on the ball, not recognizing how hard it was hit or dealing with the bright sun on a perfect cloudless day. He hesitated just long enough to make a tough play almost impossible. His retreating attempt at an over-the-shoulder catch failed with the ball bouncing off his glove. It was a two-run triple for the Mariners and a 3-2 lead. It ended Odorizzi’s outing.
The Astros went to lefty Brooks Raley to face Ty France. That move didn’t work well with France slamming a two-run homer into left field that made it 5-2.
The top of the order duo of Haniger and France delivered again in the seventh. Haniger slashed a double into the left-center gap that scored a hustling Tom Murphy from first base. France quickly scored Haniger on a double down the left field line.
Perhaps the biggest negative of the game was seeing starter Nick Margevicius exit the game with an athletic trainer after four pitches in the fifth inning.
He was replaced by Ljay Newsome, who pitched two innings to get the win. Seattle also got scoreless relief work from Casey Sadler, Anthony Misiwicz, Rafael Montero and Drew Steckenrider.