Hopes were high coming into tonight. The M’s had yet to lose a game this season with Leake on the mound, and were hungry to bounce back from last night’s upsetting loss. The Astros too, had yet to lose a game with their starter, Gerrit Cole. Going into the game, one team had to budge. Sadly, it was not the Astros.
The Mariners held their ground throughout the first six innings of play, though. The only run allowed by Leake within that time came from a double by Brian McCann in the second, a double that allowed Marwin Gonzalez to score from first.
Leake was unfazed. He had a perfect third inning. When Josh Reddick, Yuli Gurriel, and Gonzales came up to bat in the fourth, Leake managed to strikeout all three of them on eleven pitches. The last of those strikeouts happened to be Leake’s career 1,000th.
The Mariners offense battled throughout. The first two innings included a stolen base by Dee Gordon and one by Ben Gamel, freshly recalled from Tacoma. In the third inning, Gordon scratched out a perfect bunt to reach first base, which he then extended to a double off a throwing error by Cole trying to get him out at first. It was then that anxiety began to fill the air about Mariners fans.
As Gordon ran through first base and noticed the throwing error, he seemed to lose his footing trying to change his direction toward second base. He reached safely, and later reached third after a Jean Segura groundout, but did not seem as quick and spry. With Gordon at third and on an 0-1 count, Robinson Canó later hit a ground ball up the middle, scoring Gordon all too easily; he practically walked home.
After Canó’s RBI in the third inning, the bats fell silent. Mitch Haniger managed to hit a single in the fourth, and receive his first stolen base of the year, but without reward. He was left stranded at second base by his teammates, a lone mariner in a sea lit only by stars. Jean Segura hit what should have been a home run to left field, but the ball was fished out of stands by Derek Fisher.
Despite the lack of offense, Leake pitched in stellar fashion up until the seventh inning. In 89 pitches, 54 came in for strikes; of his seven strikeouts, four were punchouts. Gerrit Cole, the Astros’ starter known for his strikeout rate this season, could not match Leake in the category. Leake was strong, a dam that kept the flood of Astros’ runs at bay, fortified by his 81mph slider.
But it was all up until the seventh inning.
The top of the seventh saw more than just a leak in the dam, the floodgates burst open entirely. After holding down the Astros’ bats throughout the game, Leake began the inning with a walk to Josh Reddick.
The Mariner tried to get him to chase changeups low and outside, but Reddick didn’t bite. The walk itself seemed innocent enough, with Leake having gone six innings and only allowing one run, but the sentiment was incorrect. Soon after the walk, Leake then allowed double to Yuli Gurriel, followed by a two-RBI single to Marwin Gonzales that blooped over the infield.
Stottlemyer Jr. went up to visit a struggling Leake. He tried to stabilize him, get him through the inning, and the pitcher looked determined to get his out. Unfortunately, Leake’s next pitch would be taken for a double by McCann. Leake was done for the game.
Nick Vincent did no better to calm the waters of the flood. He allowed a double and two singles to the top of the Astros’ order in the seventh. Just like Phlebas the Phoenician, this was Vincent’s death by water. The Mariners were down 7-1, quietly sinking to the depths of a loss. James Pazos came in to finish the inning. He pitched fairly in the eighth. Chasen Bradford did similarly in the ninth. It didn’t matter, the damage was done. In the bottom of the ninth, Canó, Cruz, and Seager could not find their bearings. They went down 1-2-3.
The Mariners set sail again tomorrow to finish out, and hopefully tie the series against the Astros. Though they happened to have drowned on this night, it is important to remember that it is only April, and we have yet to see what this team is truly capable of. We have yet to even see the actual lineup, but soon will once Mike Zunino makes his way back. The Mariners are only through one-tenth of the season, and they’ve already shown that they have what it takes to match teams favorited to win.
There is so much this team can do and I believe, as Faulkner once said, “Man will not merely endure; he will prevail.” We all know he meant the Mariners.