Lance McCullers Jr (3-1, 2.00) versus Roenis Elias (3-4, 3.67).
The Astros headed north from Colorado for a three game set with a five game winning streak intact. Also intact was another streak - if the Astros hit two home runs in a game, they are 28-0 this year. Both streaks ended tonight, because the Astros homered twice, but then stumbled to a 5-2 loss. Lance McCullers battled his control and command for the second start in a row, and the Astros found themselves in an early hole that they weren't able to hit their way out of.
On the Mound:
McCullers was staked to an early 1-0 lead, but he had a rough outing based on an inability to throw strikes, a misplay or two, and some seeing-eye singles. He allowed nine baserunners (excluding one on an error) on six hits and three walks in four-and-one-third. He needed 88 pitches to get that deep into the ballgame.
The first inning was a good indication that it was going to be a rough night. A single-walk-error sequence loaded the bases with no outs. Nelson Cruz then walked on a full count, bringing the first run in. McCullers struck out Kyle Seager on three pitches for the first out, but that kept the bases loaded for Mark Trumbo who hit a slow roller to shortstop, and Correa's only play was at first. The second run scored before McCullers struck Seth Smith out on a full count for the third out. Twenty eight pitches in the first frame.
McCullers bounced back to strike out two in a ten-pitch second inning, but another run scored in the third. Robinson Canó reached on a one-out infield single before Nelson Cruz singled to left to send him to second. Kyle Seager again struck out for the second out before Mark Trumbo singled on another bounding ground ball that eluded the glove of the diving Valbuena at third. Canó scored from second. Seth Smith threatened to worsen the damage when he hit a soft line drive down the LF line, but Luis Valbuena leapt and made a nice catch for the third out. At this point, the Mariners led 3-0.
McCullers bounced back in the fourth, again striking out two in a perfect frame. However, the fifth was his downfall. Another one-out single to Robinson Canó, then a walk to Nelson Cruz set it up for Kyle Seager, who singled through the shift into RF - Santana tried to gun Cruz down at third and nearly did so, but Cruz slid around the tag. Will Harris relieved to face Mark Trumbo, RBI legend!, who grounded out to second to bring Cruz home. Trumbo's third RBI of the night on a lame infield grounder - get that man some MVP votes!!
Harris retired Smith for the last out of the fifth, and Hinch elected to turn to Roberto Hernandez for the sixth. Hernandez allowed a lead-off walk and stolen base, but otherwise avoided trouble. He worked around a lead off double and a single in the seventh - escaping the inning with a double-play ball off the bat of.... Mark Trumbo. Trumbo must have been gutted... he hit another slow roller and it didn't result in an RBI for the first time in the game. Hernandez then pitched a perfect eighth frame - overall a solid effort out of the 'pen.
At the Plate:
The last time the Astros ran into Roenis Elias, they touched him up to the tune of 8 runs in a 13-0 win. That trend continued tonight... for one pitch. George Springer, again leading off, pounded a fastball that missed arm-side and over the plate deep to LF, into the bullpen. George jumped all over the first pitch, and it was a no-doubt shot the second it left the bat.
Elias bounced back, retiring the next two hitters on a strikeout and fly out before hitting Evan Gattis with a pitch, and allowing a single to Chris Carter. But Domingo Santana struck out on 4 pitches, ending the assault in the first inning. Elias then got into a bit of a groove, retiring the side in order in the next three innings. With two outs in the fifth, Marwin González hit a ground-rule double to CF, then George Springer was hit by a pitch. Carlos Correa lined out to end that inning. Then the Astros were retired in order in the sixth and seventh innings, resuming Elias' dominance.
In the eighth, Marwin González finally broke the spell that Elias wove around the Astros hitters with a home run just to the left side of CF. This was a similar pitch to the one that Springer homered on - Elias missed on a fastball arm-side and over the plate (but a little more elevated), and González showed some of that surprising pop he has. He ball only just cleared the fence, but Safeco is a big park, and González was hitting from his weaker side.
That prompted Lloyd McClendon to go to his bullpen, and Mark Lowe and Carson Smith combined to set the next six hitters down in order. Smith appears to be the regular closer for the M's now, so it may have been good that the Astros got a bit of a look at him this evening. Overall, the M's pitchers struck out 13 Astros - another hefty total.
Marwin González has not had a great season (.228/.248/.383 after tonight), but he was the best of the Astros hitters. He went 2-3 with a double and a home run. His error in the first detracted from that effort. Also eeking out hits was Chris Carter (1-4) and George Springer (1-3, HR, HBP). Springer is quietly wandering around with a .376 OBP, so he is well-placed in the lead-off role. No Astro walked.
Mark Trumbo may have had the lamest night at the plate of any hitter in either team, but he was awarded three RBI's. He hit weak grounders four times, but I guess at least he made contact. His grounder just wide of Luis Valbeuna in the third inning put the Astros out of reach of the Mariners, and therefore represents the Turning Point of the game.
Man of the Match:
Marwin González has not come in for much praise this year. He has surprising pop, and needs to bat more like he did in 2014, rather than in 2013. With Altuve out for perhaps the series, a contribution from González would be appreciated. Else the Astros will be forced to turn to Jonathan Villar (which I would probably not mind, but the Constable would strongly dislike).
Goat of the Game:
Preston Tucker - 0-4, 3K. Against a lefty, admittedly, but still...
Dallas Keuchel (8-2, 2.04) versus Taijuan Walker (4-6, 5.00)
10 Eastern, 9 Central.