SEATTLE -- Marco Gonzales said it was just another ballgame, but his body language -- and his manager -- said otherwise as the Mariners’ No. 1 starter shut out the Astros for eight innings on Monday night in a crucial 6-1 victory at T-Mobile Park.
Gonzales had never beaten the Astros in seven previous starts, and his club is trying to chase down their American League West rivals for a postseason playoff berth, so his performance spoke loudly.
“Marco came in the clubhouse today ornery,” manager Scott Servais said. “He came with a little chip on his shoulder. Players know who they’ve been successful against and who they’ve maybe had some struggles with. Marco likes a challenge. He likes when people think they’ve got his number. He is a fighter, and we really saw that tonight.”
If Gonzales carried any extra motivation, however, he kept it to himself.
“No, nothing special about today,” he insisted. “I’m just here to win. I come out with that mentality every game.”
Indeed, Gonzales has been beating more than just the Astros this season. The 28-year-old southpaw improved to 7-2 with a 3.06 ERA in 2020, with one start remaining in his outstanding campaign. He has won his last five starts.
“He’s putting together a heck of a year,” Servais said. “You start looking at some of the better pitchers in our league, guys who are going to be in that talk about Cy Young voting and stuff like that. He’s certainly one of the top pitchers in our league, and he does it every time out.”
Gonzales gave up seven hits but never allowed a runner past second base and was in control throughout. Gonzales, now 1-5 with a 5.83 ERA lifetime vs. Houston, walked just one and struck out six, putting him at 59 strikeouts and six walks on the season. He owns the best strikeout-to-walk ratio in the Majors.
But nothing comes easily against the Astros, who were 24-2 against Seattle the past two years. Gonzales found himself in a scoreless duel with Lance McCullers Jr. until the seventh inning, when the Mariners got an RBI double by Ty France and a three-run blast by rookie first baseman Evan White. Kyle Seager added a two-run single off reliever Brandon Bielak in the eighth.
Gonzales acknowledged he did draw extra fire from matching zeros with McCullers, who didn’t give up a hit until Tim Lopes’ one-out double in the sixth.
“Absolutely,” Gonzales said. “I’m competing with him and his tempo. We were getting each other back out on the mound quick, we were really rolling through some innings so I felt I had good momentum. To be honest, he really fueled my momentum. He set the bar, and when you do that to me, you’re going to turn on some competitive energy that has been harbored a little. I found another gear after the fifth and really started attacking people.”
The victory moved Seattle (24-30) to three games behind the Astros (27-27) in the race for the AL West’s No. 2 playoff spot with six games remaining, including two more against Houston. But that remains a steep hill since the Astros own the tiebreaker advantage -- they lead the season series 6-2 -- and Seattle will need to finish one game ahead to actually claim the final spot.
The Mariners’ other path to the playoffs would be the final AL Wild Card berth, but Toronto topped the Yankees, 11-5, on Monday to maintain its four-game advantage there.
The Mariners can make things interesting if they sweep the Astros, though they still have four games against Oakland, which clinched the AL West title with the Astros’ loss Monday. Houston closes with four games against last-place Texas.
“We have an interesting week ahead of us here,” Servais said. “It’s a super valuable experience for all our guys. I’m glad we’re playing Houston and Oakland because we’re going to play them a lot here in the next couple years. Having meaningful games at the end of year is all we could hope for, and they're certainly meaningful. Our guys are ready to go.”
Gonzales has one start remaining, likely in the season finale on Sunday in Oakland. It’ll take a lot of things to go right for the Mariners to still be contending at that point, but Gonzales isn’t worrying about that.
“Right now we’re preaching, ‘day by day,’” he said. “We’re going to win today. We checked that box. Come back tomorrow and win a ballgame. It can’t get more complicated than that. That’s how we have to view this thing. If we get out of our heads and start thinking about things like that, that’s not the way to go. So we’ll come in tomorrow and win a ballgame.”