SEATTLE — After eight straight victories, the Mariners were probably due for a clunker Friday night — and, boy, this sure qualifies: a 6-0 loss to the Houston Astros at Safeco Field.
It was, predictably, a costly stumble for the Mariners in what is now a steeper uphill climb to postseason.
They started the day trailing Baltimore and Toronto by two games in the race for one of the American League’s wild-card berths. Baltimore and Toronto pulled three games ahead by winning.
It is doubly sobering for the Mariners that it was Felix Hernandez, their long-time ace, whom the Astros clubbed around. Hernandez (11-6) gave up six runs, five earned, in just 4 1/3 innings.
Two years ago, with the Mariners making a similar late-season push, Hernandez stumbled badly in a start at Toronto. It probably cost him, fairly or not, the Cy Young Award.
No similar personal milestone was on the line Friday but, for the King, this was another big-game black eye. It’s also worth noting that, two years ago, the Mariners finished one game out in the wild-card standings.
This was more, though, than a poor start by Hernandez. The Mariners made three infield errors in the first six innings. They had just two hits against Houston starter Collin McHugh in seven innings.
Let’s pause there a second.
McHugh (11-10) entered the game with a 6.04 ERA in his 15 road starts. That number jumps to 6.65 if you take away two earlier victories at Safeco Field. In all, McHugh is now 8-1 in his last nine starts against the Mariners.
The Astros closed the game with two innings from their bullpen.
Hernandez got two quick outs in the first inning before running into trouble. Jose Altuve blooped a single into center, and Carlos Correa followed with a walk. A wild pitch moved the runners to second and third.
But Hernandez escaped when Evan Gattis grounded out to short.
It was a brief reprieve.
Colby Rasmus started the second inning with a walk and went to second on Marwin Gonzalez’s well-placed bunt single. The runners moved to second and third on Jason Castro’s sacrifice bunt. Jake Marisnick then yanked a first-pitch fastball into the left-field corner for a two-run double. Only a fine running catch by center fielder Leonys Martin on Yuli Gurriel’s two-out prevented further damage.