The September Astros can turn a compelling game into a calamity. For six innings, the Astros and Mariners delivered a pitching duel fit for a division race, a game befitting of the battle between these two mediocre clubs for a hastily-added playoff spot in this shortened season.
Lance McCullers Jr. took the mound in the seventh inning of a scoreless game. Counting his last start against the Texas Rangers, Houston’s offense had not provided the righthander a run in 14 consecutive innings. McCullers still managed stellar results, spinning curveballs and generating silly swings at will.
Paired with this pitiful lineup, one mistake by a starting pitcher is too many. McCullers made two in the seventh inning, beginning another brutal loss. Houston’s 6-1 setback handed the Oakland A’s the American League West title, ending the Astros’ three-year reign atop the division.
Winning the title was a mere formality. The Astros all but surrendered any hope of a title by losing four of five in Oakland earlier this month. It was part of a 2-9 road trip to start this month, one becoming more miserable by the day. Still, the Astros maintain a magic number of three to clinch a spot in the expanded, 16-team playoffs.
Until Carlos Correa scored a run with two outs in the ninth, no Astro touched third base on Monday at T-Mobile Park. The team totalled nine hits. Five were singles. José Altuve and Michael Brantley committed errors in the seventh and eighth innings, respectively, to aid in Seattle’s six-run explosion.
Seattle starter Marco Gonzales flew through eight innings, stranding seven Astros baserunners and holding the club to an 0-for-7 clip with runners in scoring position. Houston has now scored four or fewer runs in eight straight games.
Houston’s listless lineup has now abandoned McCullers in consecutive starts. He fired seven spectacular innings in a 1-0 loss against the Rangers on Sept. 16 at Minute Maid Park.
McCullers carried a no-hitter into the sixth inning on Monday. After a two-out walk to Kyle Lewis in the first, McCullers retired 14 straight Seattle hitters. The Mariners languished against a barrage of breaking balls and sinkers with substantial movement. McCullers struck out seven. Four concluded on the curveball.
Tim Lopes launched a one-out double in the sixth to end a bid for history, but McCullers managed to strand him at second.
The seventh started with a four-pitch walk to Lewis. McCullers will rue the sin for the next four days, but he still made a necessary pitch to erase it. Kyle Seager sent the changeup toward Altuve at second base. The ball was struck hard, but still a manageable play for the former Gold Glover.
Altuve ranged to his right, but did not field the baseball. Lewis scurried to second and Seager was safe at first.
McCullers steadied himself to strike out Jose Marmolejos and Luis Torrens. He evened the count at two against first baseman Evan White. McCullers stood a strike away from escaping the jam.
To achieve it, McCullers turned to his curveball. It did not break. White crushed it for a three-run home run just over the left-field fence. McCullers watched it fly, cognizant that one of his few miscues would wind up fatal.
Chandler Rome joined the Houston Chronicle in 2018 to cover the Astros after spending one year in Tuscaloosa covering Alabama football — during which Nick Saban asked if he attended college. He did, at LSU, where he covered the Tigers baseball team for nearly four years. He covered most of the Astros’ 2015 playoff run, too, as an intern for MLB.com
Houston Astros, Seattle Mariners, Lance McCullers Jr., Marco Gonzales
World news – US – Astros offense remains sluggish in loss to Mariners