HOUSTON -- Contenders in the American League West may be closer to the Astros than they appear.
The A's are surging and have constructed a postseason-ready bullpen. The Mariners, apparently, have climbed out of a funk to handle Houston, the division's goliath and defending World Series champion, for three straight wins at Minute Maid Park.
The Mariners defeated the Astros, 3-2, on Saturday, confirming Houston's second consecutive series loss to an AL West opponent and its seventh straight home loss. The home losing streak is the club's longest since an eight-gamer in September 2013, during a season when the Astros lost a franchise-record 111 games.
With the defeat, Houston's lead in the division over the A's falls to 3 1/2 games. Seattle is now five behind the Astros.
"Yeah, I mean, one loss here tonight," Astros manager AJ Hinch said. "I don't really think about stretches. I think about tonight."
Making things stranger, the Mariners blitzed Astros ace Justin Verlander on Thursday, plunking him with six runs in two innings, wrestled fireballing Gerrit Cole through seven-plus innings Friday, and on Saturday, Seattle was dealt Charlie Morton, a first-time All-Star on pace for the best season of his 11-year career.
It's the Astros' strongest trio of 2018. The Mariners beat all of them.
"Obviously, there's some winnable games these last couple in this series," Hinch said, "but I don't look back too very far."
Morton completed six fairly calm innings Saturday. The tall right-hander allowed all three runs on four consecutive fourth-inning hits and left two on base in his final frame.
"They won that section of the game," Hinch said. "It really was the difference in the game."
Other than the rocky fourth inning, Morton steadied the Mariners with four strikeouts, 10 ground-ball outs, including three double plays, and two fly-ball outs.
"I don't know. It was mediocre," Morton said. "It was all right. Kind of spraying stuff everywhere. … That one inning just got me."
Yuli Gurriel, Josh Reddick and Tyler White combined for three straight hits to create the Astros' two runs in the second inning against Mariners starter Wade LeBlanc, giving the Astros an early lead. After that, though, Houston did not notch another hit until the eighth inning.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Heredia robs Astros:Max Stassi rolled an infield single toward third base in the eighth inning for Houston's first hit since the second. The Astros elected to swap Stassi for speedy outfielder Derek Fisher as a pinch-runner with one out. Tony Kemp hit a fly-ball into right-center field, and it appeared likely to drop for a hit off the bat. But Mariners center field Guillermo Heredia tracked down Kemp's drive and made a spectacular run-saving catch and doubled Fisher up at first base. The Astros' game-tying threat fizzled quickly against Seattle reliever Alex Colome.
"The ball hung up just enough and he makes a great circus catch," Hinch said. "I still wasn't sure he caught it until he came up ready to throw pretty excited.
"It's a frustrating play because it's an aggressive mistake, but it's a mistake. With no outs, you've got one responsibility: to make sure the ball is down. If the ball does fall with the dive, he probably scores, which everybody likes the upside of that play. The downside of that play is a catastrophe, because we're completely out of that inning."
Morton dropped to 12-3, but he still leads the AL in winning percentage at .800.
HE SAID IT
"I'm just going out there trying to have good at-bats. Trying to see good pitches and trying to put my best swing on it. I'm just running into some balls right now and having good at-bats." -- White, who's batting .342 (13-for-38) with three home runs and eight RBIs in 11 games since he was recalled from Triple-A on July 29
The Astros and Mariners will close their four-game series at 1:10 p.m. CT on Sunday at Minute Maid Park. Dallas Keuchel will get the ball for the Astros. Keuchel has faced Seattle three times this season and is 1-2. He allowed a season-high seven runs to the Mariners on July 1. The Mariners relegated Felix Hernandez to the bullpen on Thursday and are expected to start Erasmo Ramirez instead.