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Mariners can’t get it done vs. Astros and face long odds to make playoffs

By Ryan Divish Seattle Times

Their season isn’t done, but their situation isn’t good.

They are something more than being “mathematically alive” holding slightly better odds than a lottery ticket.

They can hope and believe they will find a way because it’s what they’ve done more often than not over the past few seasons.

The Mariners don’t need a miracle to salvage their fading postseason hopes, but it will take something more than they’ve shown in the last five days of games.

In perhaps the most important regular-season game played at T-Mobile Park since 2014 or perhaps 2016, the Mariners regressed back into that team tried to play its way out of postseason hope in the first few months of the season — striking out with runners in scoring position, playing careless in the field and failing to rise to the occasion.

And it came against their most hated American League rival — the Houston Astros.

A victory would have solidified, but not guaranteed, a return to the postseason via one of the two remaining wild card spots.

But with a disappointing 8-3 drubbing by the Astros, the Mariners will instead travel that unwanted path that will require them to win at least three or their last four games and hope Houston falters.

Even with Seattle winning the season series, the Astros won the series that mattered most. The Mariners (85-73) will host the Texas Rangers, who have absolutely handled them this season, over the next four days at T-Mobile Park. The Astros (86-72) will travel to Phoenix and have Thursday off before opening a three-game series with the Diamondbacks, who are chasing a National League wild card spot. The Blue Jays (81-71) have four games — all at home — remaining. They play the Yankees on Thursday and then finish up with three games with the Rays, who still have a slim hope of winning the AL East.

Here’s where it gets weird.

The Mariners hold tiebreakers over the tiebreaker over the Astros and Blue Jays. Winning four games would be ideal, taking three out of four would be a solid consolation while a split would be less than ideal.

It looked as if the Mariners had the set the tone immediately.

Crawford waited for Framber Valdez’s second pitch of the game — a 92-mph changeup that stayed up in the zone — and yanked it just inside the right field foul pole for his sixth leadoff homer of the season and 18th overall home run.

The Mariners seemed poised to make it a big inning as the emotional Valdez grew irritated with the wandering strike zone of home plate umpire Larry Vanover. After Valdez walked Julio Rodriguez and Eugenio Suarez, reacting with anger and frustration, Astros pitching coach Joshua Miller appeared quickly from the dugout and headed to the mound. Catcher Martin Maldonado and the entire Astros infield joined Miller, all of them trying to reel in Valdez’s emotions.

It sort of worked. Valdez came back to strike out Teoscar Hernandez, got a break when Dylan Moore’s 109-mph line drive was gloved by Alex Bregman at third base and then struck out Ty France to end the inning.

The Mariners had a lead, but it could’ve been, and probably should’ve been, so much more.

The inability to cash in with runners in scoring position — a seasonlong rash that seemed reappear at the worst possible moments — proved costly.

After working three scoreless innings, Seattle starter Bryce Miller wobbled in the fourth inning. It started with Yordan Alvarez annihilating a 1-1 fastball, sending a low line drive like a Tiger Woods’ 1-iron over the wall in deep right-center. The ball had a 116-mph exit velocity and a 16-degree launch angle, which is the lowest on any homer in 2023.

Giving up a solo homer to Alvarez wasn’t crushing for Miller or the Mariners. It was giving up one-out singles to Jose Abreu and Michael Brantley and then hanging a 1-0 slider to Mauricio Dubon that was turned into a three-run homer into the bullpen area and a 4-1 lead.

It silenced the boisterous crowd of 38,019.

Miller finished the inning, but his outing was done after four innings.

The Mariners immediately answered in the bottom of the inning, loading the bases with one out. When Rodriguez struck out swinging with one out, it looked like another opportunity might go wasted … again. But Eugenio Suarez lined a single to left field to score a pair of runners, trimming Houston’s lead to one run.

Seattle would get no closer.

The game fell apart in the seventh inning.

With one out, Alex Bregman looped a line drive to center field. Teoscar Hernandez charged on the ball, hoping to make the catch. Seeing he couldn’t, he pulled up at the last second to play it on one hop. But that one hop went past him, rolling all the way to the wall and allowing Bregman to race to third base.

A runner on third base with one out instead of only on first base changed the entire complexion of the inning. Seattle intentionally walked Alvarez to put runners on first and third and then brought in Matt Brash to face Kyle Tucker in hopes of getting a strikeout.

Instead, Tucker ripped a line drive just out of the reach of a leaping France at first base, bouncing off the top of his glove and into the right field corner to push the lead to 5-3.

With runners on second and third and the Mariners forced to play the infield in, Jose Abreu pulled a soft ground ball through the left side to score another run and Michael Brantley followed with a crisp line drive to center to drive in another run.

When Brash finally recorded the final two outs, the Astros had scored four runs and held a 7-3 lead.