The Mariners baffling insistence on acting like Minute Maid Park is some sort of horrifying, ancient temple before which they must cower and tremble is nothing short of rage-inducing. This game, despite instant offensive success against starter José Urquidy, most notably from Astro-turned-Astro-killer Abraham Toro, had all the makings of yet another sloppy loss in MMP.
From Tyler Anderson’s first sub-5 IP start in 27 games to Haniger’s disastrous fumble near the foul pole, there was ample reason by the 6th to assume the sweep would be completed in unceremonious fashion. The resounding return of Seattle’s once and future tormentor Marwin Gonzalez gave Houston a one-run lead in the 2nd that, given the locale, felt insurmountable.
In preparing for said loss, I found myself digging to uncover what it is about Houston’s ballpark that sends such shivers up the Mariners’ spines. Is it the unsightly Crawford boxes that loom over the field like the observation towers of a prison yard? The ghost of Tal’s Hill and the pole that once loomed in center field? The specter of pitchers striking out in the batter’s boxes? The eerie feeling that the eyes of the Astros’ “dark arts” specialists are upon you?
Maybe it’s as simple as the mere fact that the Astros have been the better team for most of the time they’ve played in the AL West, with home field advantage explaining the rest.
Regardless, whatever spell is cast upon Seattle’s ballplayers upon arriving in the Space City was lifted in the 7th inning as Ty, Toro, and Jarred combined to manufacture two game-tying runs.
The next two frames felt far more like a return to cursed form than any of us would have liked. To open the home 7th, Michael Brantley hit one right at Misiewicz, whose reflexes were not quite sharp enough to avoid allowing the infield hit, and who was surely not comforted by a trainer visit so shortly after returning from the IL.
As the top of the 8th progressed, Tony Sandwiches having elicited a crucial GIDP the inning prior, it felt like the last chance to win the game. The top of the order started to deliver, but ultimately decided Seattle’s fate, as it so often has, should rest with the role players and struggling not-yet stars at the bottom of the lineup.
First, however, it was up to the new-and-improved (but really just back to his usual self) Diego Castillo to keep the game tied. Surely there were sighs from Diego doubters as he promptly ceded a single to Correa off his sinker, but the slider monster was not done yet.
Diego Castillo works around a leadoff single by Carlos Correa to strike out three in a row.— Daniel Kramer (@DKramer_) September 8, 2021
He had the good slider working: pic.twitter.com/EMFS24nNhg
This is the version of Castillo that I pictured in writing him up back at the trade deadline: the one who can make batters swing with force and regrets too strong to hold back. It’s too early to say he’s back, but it sure would be something if he were back.
With the Graveman surrogate’s three straight K’s keeping the Mariners in the game, the curse would need to be lifted once again for the Mariners to score and not simply roll over for their Gulf Coast rivals.
Lo and behold, that’s exactly what happened. The hauntings seemed to cease and the miasma evaporated just in time. Those who believe, or want to believe, in fringe players like Luis Torrens and José Marmolejos were rewarded this afternoon just as much as those who take fewer risks and believe in Jarred Kelenic. The three of them compiled a set of good plate appearances and better hitting that put the Mariners up 6-4.
I can hardly say enough about the single from Marmo, which surely shows up when you search “hit it where they ain’t”:
Because a two run lead felt like it wouldn’t be enough, and it almost wasn’t, J.P. found some of the power in his tank that’s usually reserved for ABs against Mike Foltynewicz, crushing a baseball out to right field for some of that good, good insurance.
For the sake of staff writer and noted Paul Sewald afficionado Michael Ajeto, I will only say that the former managed to get the three outs he needed in the bottom of the ninth, ensuring that the world of online Mariners fans would be blessed with this image:
With that, the Mariners ended their campaign against Houston this season, going 8-11 against them on the year, which is a far better record than I can remember in recent years.
In order for Seattle to stand a chance in future seasons, any such trepidation against a division-mate will need to end. The Astros do not seem as bound for ruin as many had suspected prior to the season, and their find-a-way success will likely challenge the Mariners through any contention window they might have.
Here’s to the end of the series, the end of facing the Astros in 2021, and, with any luck, the end of the Minute Maid Park curse.