Mariners again shut down by Houston

Punchless Mariners miss chance to gain ground in playoff race with 2-1 loss to Houston

SEATTLE — It was a frustrating reminder of seasons past — few baserunners, no clutch hits, bad strikeouts and a wasted pitching performance — and not indicative of what this team has done for much of this season.

The Mariners’ offense, which had scored 89 runs in the first 14 games of September, has gone from productive to punchless in the first two games to start the homestand.

With a solid crowd of 32,309 at Safeco Field on Saturday night, Seattle squandered a solid pitching performance from James Paxton and an opportunity to move up in the wild-card standings with another inept offensive showing in a 2-1 loss to the Houston Astros.

“Coming into the game, I thought if we could hold them to two runs, we’d be in good shape,” said manager Scott Servais.

Instead, the Mariners dropped to 78-70 on the season, but didn’t lose any ground in the American League wild-card race with the Orioles and Blue Jays losing their games. They remain three games back.

“We just didn’t get a lot of hits when we needed to, and that happens some nights,” Servais said. “We are still in this thing. But we have to come out and get after it tomorrow.”

It was essentially the third straight game that the offense had sputtered. They managed just two runs in their final win of the trip in Anaheim and were shut out on Friday night. Saturday night didn’t see much more in the way of production despite perhaps too much effort.

“The last couple of nights we’ve been a little anxious at the plate, and they’ve feasted on that,” Servais said.

Mike Fiers isn’t a dominant starter. And much like his teammate Collin McHugh, who shut down the Mariners on Friday night, he isn’t going to overwhelm hitters with stuff or velocity.

But he looked dominant against Seattle, following McHugh’s scouting report and dropping curveball after curveball at Mariners hitters looking for fastballs to drive. It’s not that the Mariners swung and missed at the pitches, but they weren’t hitting them hard.

Fiers pitched six scoreless innings, allowing just three hits with a walk and four strikeouts to improve to 11-7 on the season.

“We’ve hit fastballs pretty well and our last game against him we were able to take advantage of some fastballs at their place,” said Kyle Seager. “They switched it up on us. It obviously worked.”

Paxton gave Seattle just about all it could ask for in an outing. The lefty flirted with a perfect game and gave up two runs on four hits in seven innings pitched. His only walk was intentional and he struck out seven but fell to 4-7.

“Man, he was dominant,” Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. “He just dominated early. … At one point you get a little nervous when you get to the middle part of the game and we hadn’t had a baserunner.”

Paxton was perfect through five innings, using his high-90s fastball and biting curveball to mow down hitters.

But his bid for a perfect game was broken up five pitches into the sixth inning when Teoscar Hernandez singled up the middle on a 2-2 fastball for the Astros’ first baserunner of the night. Paxton’s second baserunner allowed came moments later when Tyler White doubled on 2-0 fastball into the left-field corner, putting runners on second and third with no outs.

“I just left a couple of balls over,” Paxton said.

It appeared Paxton might escape the jam. He got Jake Marisnick to bounce out to third without scoring a run and struck out George Springer.

But he couldn’t get that third out without any damage.

Yulieski Gurriel, who has been playing major-league baseball for about a month, looked like a veteran, getting on top of a chest-high, 98 mph fastball from Paxton and driving it through the left side to score both runners.

“He just put the bat on it and found a hole there,” Paxton said.

The Mariners snapped a streak of 17 scoreless innings — dating to that game in Anaheim — in the eighth inning. Norichika Aoki reached base for the fourth time in the game with an infield single off Astros reliever Luke Gregerson. Aoki scored from first on Seth Smith’s RBI double to the right-center gap. But Smith was stranded on second. Robinson Cano struck out in an ugly at-bat, and Nelson Cruz popped out to short to end the threat.