This game felt like an Astros game in a parallel universe, a Bizarro world Astros game if you will. A game where the littlest Astros came up big, where the humblest Astros were the greatest, and where the mightiest and normally most heroic Astros were the meek who inherit the Earth. In sports they’re sometimes called losers.
After a road trip where all but one game was low scoring and close, in this game there were 14 runs. Most nights the six runs the Astros scored tonight wins a game handily. And yet they still lost. And for the first time the Astros scored proficiently against a pitching nemesis who normally owns them. And yet they still lost.
Hell, Jake Marisnick even walked twice. And didn’t strike out. Bizarre indeed.
Yeah, I hate to say it, even the greatest of the great have bad nights once in a while, but tonight this Astros loss can mostly be pinned on Justin Verlander and Alex Bregman. These are the two highest WAR players on the Astros, and among the highest in the league, but tonight Verlander put the Astros in a deep hole early, and Bregman, given four opportunities to dig the team out of that hole by getting a hit with runners in scoring position, failed to produce each time.
Maybe the Mariner 1-2-3 bats were just hot tonight. Against Verlander their first four batters hit for the cycle, with Mitch Haniger leading off the game with a homer, Denard Span hitting a triple, Jean Segura a double, and Nelson Cruz hitting in the third run of the inning with a single.
Span and Segura would homer off Verlander in the second so that the Astros would find themselves down 6-0 against James Paxton, who historically baffles Astros hitters like he baffles no others.
The second inning would produce a controversial umpire decision that some might say decided the game and led to the ejection of Verlander. With two outs Haniger got a double, but a few pitches later was picked off second by Verlander to end the inning. Except the home plate umpire called a balk, so the inning continued for Span and Segura to hit their back to back homers against Verlander. Verlander got the third out, inning over.
Before the Astros went to bat there were discussions between the umps and the Astros dugout, and Verlander was quietly ejected.
(Warning, editorial opinion— Many say the balk call was wrong or that the home plate ump had no right to make it. As an umpire for fourteen years I say both points are wrong. Furthermore, if a weird pick off play is what you need to win, you probably don’t deserve to win.)
Arguably this was the worst game in the career of Justin Verlander. Although he has given up more than six runs on 16 other occasions in his career by my count, he never did so in as few as two innings.
The Astros however did not quit. Marisnick opened the third inning with a walk, followed by a strange Tony Kemp double that was a fairly routine grounder to first which happened to take a high hop over the first basemen’s head. Nontheless, these most humble of Astros had put runners on second and third with no outs. Alex Bregman grounded out, but Marwin Gonzalez hit both runners in with his only hit of the night.
After two scoreless innings in relief of Verlander by Brad Peacock, and one scoreless inning by Will Harris, in his second inning Harris allowed two more Seattle runs, giving them another six run lead. The runs allowed by Harris broke a streak of nine games in which the bullpen had not allowed a run.
The Astros relievers again lead the league in ERA.
After Harris, the three remaining relievers, Tony Sipp, Joe Smith, and Roberto Osuna started a new scoreless inning streak for Houston relievers, pitching the seventh, eighth and ninth innings respectively.
The Astros cut the lead in the bottom of the sixth on a two run single by Tony Kemp, scoring Tyler White and Martin Maldonado. Bregman would end the inning stranding runners on first and third.
However, earlier in the fifth the Astros failed to score at all after a Marisnick walk and a Tony Kemp double with no outs offered a golden opportunity. Bregman and Gonzalez would then strike out, and Yuli Gurriel, who was hitless in the game, grounded out.
Since the All Star break before tonight Bregman was slashing .203/.333/.390 with 2 home runs in 72 PA’s.
The Astros added a run in the seventh on a Tyler White RBI double and another in the ninth with a solo Great White homer to left. Seattle closer Edwin Diaz would strike out the rest of the Astros in the ninth to record his 43rd save.
The Fresno boys were the main producers this evening. Jake Marisnick got on base all four times, once on a bunt single, twice on base on balls, and once on a hustle error. Little Tony Kemp was the big producer tonight, going 3-4 with a double and two RBI. And of course Tyler White was 2-4, with a double and a home run and 2 RBI.
Alex Bregman left 7 men on base, six in scoring position, and usually clutch Yuli Gurriel stranded 5. All in all, the Astros were only 2-10 with runners in scoring position, and left 9 on base.
Mitch Haniger of the Mariners had the biggest night of his career, going 4-5 with a home run, two doubles and a single.
Tony Kemp even flashed some leather in right field tonight. See below.
Tomorrow game two of the four game series begins at 7:10 CDT.
Box score and video here.