HOUSTON — Given how the games had played out over the past few seasons, it didn’t seem possible for the Seattle Mariners to do this. They haven’t just struggled to beat the Astros, they’ve found a myriad ways to lose games, getting drubbed in blowouts or having their hearts broken in late-inning defeat.
And now in a lost season that will be largely remembered for failures, the Mariners did find a way to beat the defending World Series champions more times in a season than losing to them. With the 9-0 victory Wednesday night, the Mariners won the season series against the Houston Astros.
Seattle roughed up starter Dallas Keuchel for five runs, including three in the first inning and leaving a knot on the back of his head in the process. Meanwhile, a collection of relievers making a bullpen start gave the Mariners a better-than-expected outing in Minute Maid Park.
Seattle finished with a 10-9 record against Houston this season. A four-game sweep of the Astros in early August at Minute Maid when their roster was ravaged by injuries helped change the Mariners’ success against the best team in the American League West.
Their reward for the accomplishment: Nothing.
The Mariners know winning a season series against a playoff team means nothing when you fail to make the playoffs.
But maybe the mental barrier of playing the Astros particularly in Houston has been broken. The Mariners went 7-2 at Minute Maid Park this season, compared to 3-7 last season.
Over the past three seasons, including the dismal 5-14 overall record last season, the Mariners are a combined 20-37 against the Astros.
When Houston entered the American League West, the Mariners went 10-9 in 2013 and 2014 against squads that were in the process of tanking for a rebuild — a process that so many Mariners fans want their own team to embark upon this offseason.
And as the Astros’ young talent was cultivated along with the surprising emergence of Jose Altuve from a random international signing to the AL MVP, Houston has become the class of the division. Another division title is expected and a run toward the World Series is a possibility.
And the Mariners? Well, winning a season series doesn’t erase the overall failures that will have them watching the postseason for yet another year.
But the Mariners are still putting out largely competitive performances in the final weeks of the season, which is expected of professional athletes, though it has to be a little galling for Mariners manager Scott Servais to see an increase of quality at-bats and run production after they were basically out of the playoff race.
Seattle beat up on Keuchel in the first inning. Mitch Haniger led off with a single and Jean Segura followed with a double. Robinson Cano sent Haniger home with a single to left and Segura later scored on a wild pitch. With one out and runners on the corners, Kyle Seager hit a rocket comebacker to the mound. The ball ricocheted off the back of Keuchel’s head and flew into right field for a run-scoring single.
After a long conversation with the athletic trainer and manager A.J. Hinch, Keuchel remained in the game. The scary moment seemed to wake him up because he retired the next 12 batters in a row.
But the Mariners got to Keuchel again in the fifth. Haniger worked a leadoff walk and then later came around to score on Cano’s double into the left-center gap. While Cano got the RBI, Haniger did all the work. The relay throw from shortstop Carlos Correa actually beat Haniger to the plate. But, similar to a slide last week, Haniger slid well wide of the plate to avoid the tag from catcher Martin Maldonado without touching home plate. Haniger then quickly tapped home with his hand before Maldonado realized home-plate umpire Tripp Gibson hadn’t made a call on the original play.
Nelson Cruz later added a run-scoring single in the inning to make it 5-0.
The Mariners blew the game open against the Astros bullpen. Seager smashed his 22nd homer of the season off reliever Brad Peacock. The prodigious solo blast went into the second deck in right field.
Haniger continued his torrid hitting pace, launching his 26th homer of the season past left field to start the seventh. Cano drove in his third run of the night with his second run-scoring double to make it 8-0.
Guillermo Heredia even got into the homer parade, sneaking a fly ball into the Crawford Boxes past left field for a solo homer in the eighth.
The excessive run support was ideal for the cadre of Mariners relievers. Rookie Matt Festa got the start, and pitched a scoreless first inning, retiring All-Stars George Springer, Altuve and Alex Bregman in order. It was slightly different than facing the Class AA Tulsa Drillers.
From there, Servais paraded reliever after reliever to the mound to fill out the nine innings of scoreless baseball. Casey Lawrence (1-0) worked innings two through four to get credit for the victory. Adam Warren (fifth) and Shawn Armstrong (sixth) were able to work around multiple base runners for scoreless frames. Zach Duke (seventh) and Justin Grimm (eighth) and Roenis Elias (ninth) secured the shutout. Seven pitchers combined to give up five hits with three walks and three strikeouts.