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Mariners split series against the Astros, remain in first place

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“Do not weep; for not all tears are an evil.”

Seattle Mariners v Houston Astros Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

Today, the Mariners lost a ballgame; simplest way to put it, and frankly, the loss itself was the worst part of the game. The Mariners battled and fought both on the field and in the batter’s box, proving that they are a winning team despite the new L on the record.

In what would have been the most appropriate beginning to a sequel of yesterday’s game, Dee Gordon, (who was batting .414 on first pitches at the start of the game) ripped a line drive down the right field foul line for a leadoff double on Lance McCullers first pitch of the game. Already, the game began to show signs of promise, but unfortunately the offense could not replicate the run-scoring frenzy they employed in the previous game. Jean Segura struck out on five low-and-away pitches and Mitch Haniger tapped a grounder to third base that might as well have been walked over and handed to Alex Bregman. Nelson Cruz was able to bounce back from an 0-2 count and garner a walk off of McCullers, but Kyle Seager soon flew out to center field to end the inning.

In the bottom of the first, Wade LeBlanc came out of the gate using all of his pitches and gave us a little bit of everything by getting George Springer to ground out, issuing a walk to Alex Bregman, and forcing a flyout for José Altuve. He ended the inning by striking out Carlos Correa on a six-pitch fastball-changeup-cutter-changeup-cutter-fastball combination and made sure to through the cutter for strikes.

But the real trouble was to begin in the second inning for LeBlanc. Two of the Astros’ best hitters against LeBlanc, Josh Reddick and Evan Gattis were hitting back-to-back in the sixth and seventh slots of the lineup and were due up. LeBlanc managed to strikeout Reddick on six pitches, making good use of his curveball. Unfortunately, Evan Gattis was able to garner a walk, despite LeBlanc throwing fastballs that were placed in the lower part of the zone, but called balls by home plate umpire Paul Nauert.

One would think that Mike Zunino, pitch-framing maestro that he is, would have been able to frame those pitches a bit better, but LeBlanc looked as though he still needed some time to fall into his rhythm, taking seven pitches to end the inning on a Tim Federowicz forceout.

After an unfortunate 1-2-3 inning for the M’s in the top frame of the third, the Astros’ Tony Kemp was able to screech a line drive off of a LeBlanc curveball into the gap in right field, but this is were the game started to showcase what the Mariners had to offer. Kemp sprinted his way through the infield and chugged his way passed second base and shot for third but was no match for Dee’s cut-off throw.

In the same inning, Alex Bregman hit a single to left field and José Altuve, having one of the smallest strikezones in MLB, took four high balls for a walk. With two on, and two out, Carlos Correa shot a scribbling grounder just to Dee Gordon’s left. Dee had to react quickly. He dove for the ball and managed to block it, but was unable to field it cleanly. Time was of the essence, Bregman was gunning home. Dee got up, reached for the ball and launched a perfectly placed ball to Mike Zunino, who cleanly tagged out Bregman at the plate.

The Mariners showcased their fantastic Dee-fense in the third inning, and then came Nelson Cruz in the fourth. Did you know that his bats are engraved with his daughter’s name? Is there a better way to show your love for your family? Maybe taking those bats and using them to crush a high-inside fastball out into the stands is a better way?

Sadly, the Astros responded in turn. Evan Gattis, who was known to be LeBlan’s toughest opponent going into this game proved he had the chops to take him down, and blasted a two-run home run on a full count. LeBlanc proceeded to strike out Tim Federowicz on three pitches but that was not enough to settle the nerves. Tony Kemp was able to scribble in a hit, and George Springer shot a liner to the fence that ricocheted off the wall passed Denard Span and allowed Kemp to score, widening the gap to two runs.

It was only the fourth inning, and it was just too early to take out LeBlanc, who at this point was up to 79 pitches. He managed to finish the inning by getting Bregman to fly out to Span.

As Chasen Bradford began to warm up in the bullpen, the top of the fifth inning was another unfortunate 1-2-3 inning for the Mariners. But they managed to make up for it with more amazing defensive plays in the bottom of the fifth. Take for instance this beauty of a play by Jean Segura.

Carlos Correa walked on five pitches after that play, but with a defense like that, it didn’t matter. Yuli Gurriel took a Chasen Bradford slider and grounded into a double play. Inning over.

Up came Dee Gordon to lead off the sixth inning. He quickly grounded out to Alex Bregman, who was playing in a shallow position, expecting a Dee Gordon bunt. Segura, Haniger, and Cruz retaliated by taking advantage of the small ball and hitting consecutively, the last of those hits scoring Segura from second base. The Mariners then only trailed by a run and in what felt like a complete role reversal, the Astros fell into a 1-2-3 inning in the bottom of the sixth after James Pazos relieved Bradford.

In the seventh, without any warning, Denard Span came up to bat and shattered a 94 mph two-seamer to the stands, recording his first home run as a Mariner and proving that LL’s very own Matthew is a clairvoyant. The M’s woke up a that moment. Guillermo Heredia took five pitches and walked, forcing A.J. Hinch to bring in reliever Chris Devenski for McCullers. On an errant pick off throw by Devenski soon after, Heredia advanced to third base. Mike Zunino came up to the plate but unfortunately popped the ball up for a foul out. Dee Gordon struck out soon after. Jean Segura, having none of that, smacked a single to score Heredia. Jean then stole second base without so much as a glance from Astros catcher Time Federowicz. But the steal was in vain, as Haniger flew out to Josh Reddick to end the inning. All was right though, as the Mariners had taken a one-run lead.

But then began what felt like the longest inning the Mariners have played this season, at least recently. Juan Nicasio came in to relieve James Pazos but was not able to hold down Astros offense, allowing a single, a double, and a run scoring single to Kemp, Springer, and Bregman respectively. Sottlemyer came in to talk to Nicasio and work through some issues, but it was just not enough to hold down the Astros. Nicasio allowed another RBI single, this time to Altuve, and the M’s were down once again.

But you can’t really blame Nicasio here. He was hitting his spots, and the hits the Astros were getting were all made on contact outside of the zone. Chalk it up to bad luck and a simple bad day for Nicasio. Dan Altavilla came in to relieve him after the Altuve RBI single, which gave me enough time to realize that the Astros still had not gotten a single out.

Altavilla struck out Correa on a slider and hope was renewed, but Gurriel came in with a grounder up the middle to score Altuve and Bregman. Soon after, Reddick and Gattis both popped out and the inning was over. But the damage was done. The Mariners were down 7-4.

Even then, even with a three run deficit, this game never truly felt over. Kyle Seager, who had been 0-for-3 through the first seven innings, came in in the eighth and blasted a Joe Smith slider for a home run to right field. And in the ninth despite there being two outs for the Mariners, Jean Segura and Mitch Haniger both hit singles. Though Cruz ended the game on a strikeout, he had already gone 3-for-4 in the game.

That was what was so interesting about this loss, the fact that it almost didn’t even feel like a loss. Sure, on record the series was split, but this Mariners team, the team that has played 27 one-run games and far too many low scoring games, came into Houston, and scored powerful runs and hit meaningful hits. Their defense and their pitching was second-to-none. This loss was simply a loss. Not a setback, not a season-ender. Just one of the losses this team is going to have on their road to success.

And it feels okay.