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September 20, 2014 at 7:58 PM

Astros 10, Mariners 1 — A missed opportunity for Seattle

AP photo

AP photo

It was all set up for the Mariners to grab the lead in the American League wild card standings.

Earlier in the day, the Detroit Tigers continued their season-long dominance over the Royals with a 3-2 in Kansas City.  The Royals dropped to 5-13 against their AL Central rival on the season and 83-70 overall.  Over in the Bay Area, the A’s were shutdown by veteran right-hander Jerome Williams in a 3-0 loss to fall to 84-70

Armed with the advantage in all tiebreakers, all Seattle had to do was beat the Astros on Saturday night to climb into the top spot.

Those hopes were crushed like many of the pitches from starter Chris Young by Houston hitters in a frustrating 10-1 loss to the Astros.

So instead of sitting atop the wild card standings, the Mariners (83-71) trail the A’s by one game for the first wild card and are 1/2 game behind the Royals for the second wild card.

Screen Shot 2014-09-20 at 9.51.36 PM

It was an opportunity squandered. With eight games left in the season, the Mariners might not get another quite like it.

“That’s a little bit of a dangerous game,” Seager said of the standings watch. “It’s not like you play extra hard when they lose. It’s not like we are going to try harder today than yesterday. We’re giving our best effort every day, whether they win or lose.”

So what went wrong?

For a fly ball pitcher like Young, the tight confines of Minute Maid Park and warm air in Houston with roof open are not ideal conditions for success – and he had little of it from his very first pitch.

Robbie Grossman led off with a bloop single to left field and it snowballed into two two-run homers, leaving the Mariners down 4-0.

The Astros tacked on another run in the second inning to make it 5-0 on Jose Altuve’s RBI single to left field.

Since they struggle to score three runs a game, the Mariners aren’t exactly equipped to rally from a five-run deficit.

“They swung the bat well,” McClendon said. “They decided it pretty early.”

But like eating an elephant, they tried to come back one bite at time against Astros starter Dallas Keuchel.  Robinson Cano singled home Austin Jackson in the third inning to make it 5-1. The deficit seemed on the verge of shrinking more when the Mariners loaded the bases with no outs in the fourth inning on three straights singles. But in true Mariners’ fashion, not a run scored. Chris Taylor struck and Austin Jackson bounced back to the pitcher for a 1-2-3 double play.

For a moment, it looked as though Seattle would at least get a run when the throw from catcher Carlos Corporan to first base hit Jackson in the back, allowing Hart to hustle across the plate. But home plate umpire Hunter Wendlestedt ruled that Jackson was running in the baseline and called him out for interference.

“We had our one shot and we couldn’t capitalize,” McClendon said.

The Mariners would get no closer because the lead would continue to grow with more long balls and Keuchel continued to put up zeroes.

Young gave up back-to-back solo homers to Matt Dominguez and Corporan to start the fourth inning to make it 7-1 and end his outing.

If the Mariners weren’t done before, they were after that.

Young was credited with three innings pitched, giving up seven runs on eight hits with a walk and three strikeouts.

“I’m disappointed,” Young said. “I felt good going in, but don’t know what happened.”

In his last five starts, Young is 0-3 with an 8.35 ERA, pitching 18 1/3 innings and giving up 17 earned runs on 27 hits with 13 walks and seven homers.

“I’d be lying if I didn’t say I was concerned,” McClendon said. “But what do you do? We are down the home stretch right now.”

With Roenis Elias hurt and no off days, the Mariners are short on options and Young will likely make his scheduled start on Thursday in Toronto.

“As we speak right now, yes,” McClendon said.

Young’s replacement, Erasmo Ramirez, was serviceable for a few innings before serving up a three-run homer to Jake Marisnick in the seventh to make it 10-1.

Keuchel (12-9) worked eight innings, giving up one run on seven hits with on walk and eight strikeouts. McClendon had turned a few heads when he labeled Keuchel’s stuff “average” in a loss to Houston earlier this season. He didn’t back down.

“He pitched well,” McClendon said. “Everybody was up in a huff about what I said last time. I wasn’t trying to downplay the kid. He’s got average stuff, but he knows how to pitch. He doesn’t have David Price type of stuff. It’s just a fact. It’s not a knock on the kid.”

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