Blown Save Gives M's Sweep Of Astros

Mariners mock post-game dance
(c) Steve Gonzales/Houston Chronicle
Down 1-0 most of the afternoon, it seemed another loss to the Mariners would be due to a popgun offense from an injury-riddled lineup. But the Astros rallied in the eighth and went to the top of the ninth in a 3-2 lead and in a position to pop Seattle's bubble. A win would knock the M's back to six games out and hold off hard-charging Oakland for a day.

It didn't happen. Ryon Healy snapped Hector Rondon's save streak with a two-out game-saving homer into the Crawfords to tie it up. It did not take the Mariners long for Mitch Haniger to double home Dee Gordon in the tenth off Roberto Osuna or for Edwin Diaz to go 4-for-4 in save opportunities as Seattle completed the four-game sweep on Sunday and pushed within four games of the Astros in the AL West while Oakland crept within 2-1/2 behind.

Houston, you have a pennant race - one you weren't expecting.

It should be time now to get angry and focus on August instead of speculating how to organize your roster for October. After eight straight home losses, talk of playoffs sounds absurd. The Astros are a pedestrian 18-18 since June 28th. On most nights, the starting pitching is keeping the Astros in the contest but the banged-up offense has had trouble keeping their end of the deal.

Case in point was the fifth inning when Houston loaded the bases on two singles and an error with nobody out. Newly-recalled Kyle Tucker whiffed then Martin Maldonado rolled into an inning-ending double play.

Yet when Dallas Keuchel gave up a solo shot to Mike Zunino in the seventh that put Seattle up, 2-0, you had the feeling the Astros would waste another solid pitching performance and die in their sleep.

Instead, they had one rally left in them. Tucker was hit by a pitch in the eighth and pinch-hitter Yuli Gurriel singled. Nick Vincent replaced James Pazos for the M's but, one out later, he gave up an RBI single to Alex Bregman.

Carlos Correa, 0-for-9 since coming off the DL on Friday, hit a check-swing single into right to get Gurriel home for a 2-2 tie. Evan Gattis added a sac fly to put Houston miraculously ahead, 3-2. The slumbering Astros had life again.

Then they didn't. Healy came through in the ninth and Hanigan, who had three of Seattle's eleven hits, smacked newly-acquired Osuna in the 10th to shrink the confidence factor of the rebuilt bullpen and send the once-sagging M's back into the playoff discussion.

I mentioned Thursday the Mariners needed a sweep to get back into the race and, to their credit, they did just that. They showed the pluck and resilience the Astros seem to lack under the home glass. Not even Legends weekend seemed to light a fire for Houston.

After a day off Monday to stew in their juices and hopefully get determined to break their home losing streak, the 73-46 Astros will host the 63-55 Colorado Rockies on Tuesday night in a 7:10 p.m. CT battle. Justin Verlander (11-7) will try not to repeat his shortest outing of the year his last time out which ended with six runs allowed and an ejection. He'll face righthander German Marquez (9-9). The Rockies are in their own pennant race - currently third in the NL West but just 1-1/2 games out of the division lead.

- Bob Hulsey