HOUSTON -- The Mariners' five-game winning streak came to a close on Wednesday when a battle of wits between the bullpens ended in the home team's favor, resulting in a 7-5 loss to the Astros in the finale of a two-game series at Minute Maid Park.Seattle had received strong pitching
HOUSTON -- The Mariners' five-game winning streak came to a close on Wednesday when a battle of wits between the bullpens ended in the home team's favor, resulting in a 7-5 loss to the Astros in the finale of a two-game series at Minute Maid Park.
Seattle had received strong pitching from both its rotation and relief corps throughout a three-week run that pushed the club into first place in the American League West. On Wednesday, however, starter Wade LeBlanc lasted just four innings and 83 pitches, yielding three runs on seven hits. That left it up to the 'pen to absorb the final four frames.
Most of the Astros' damage occurred against Juan Nicasio in the seventh. The veteran right-hander yielded hits to all four batters he faced, including a go-ahead single to Jose Altuve that set up the Astros' four-run inning.
Nicasio's outing, which also included base hits by Tony Kemp and Alex Bregman and a George Springer double, featured mostly sliders with occasional four-seamers mixed in. All four hits were on sliders.
"I thought he made some good pitches down and they did a good piece of hitting," catcher Mike Zunino said. "Springer being able to flip that slider to the right side, with Bregman being able to just poke it up the middle, and Altuve scooping one off the ground and hitting it to left … sometimes you have to tip your cap. We put those pitches in good places. They weren't mistakes."
Prior to this outing, Nicasio had strung together eight scoreless outings, totalling nine innings. He hadn't yielded a run since May 15.
"Juan's been really good," manager Scott Servais said. "He's in a stretch of seven or eight really nice outings. He just didn't have the put-away pitch tonight. Sometimes it's a high riding fastball; other nights it's a slider. He went to the slider tonight and they put the bat on it, and they got good results."
Nelson Cruz opened the scoring with homer -- that traveled a projected 413 feet, according the Statcast™ -- off Lance McCullers in the fourth, and the Astros answered with three in the bottom of the inning via Evan Gattis' two-run homer and Springer's RBI double. Cruz drove in another run with a base hit in the sixth, and Denard Span tied the game with his first homer as a Mariner, a solo shot in the seventh. Jean Segura's RBI single gave the Mariners a short-lived lead.
"They're tough," Servais said. "They're tough to strike out. You get two strikes on a couple guys, they put the bat on the ball. They got balls to fall in tonight.
"Our guys competed their tails off all night. We're down early, we come back, Span hits the big homer, we continue to put pressure on them. We played hard. We're playing really hard."
Despite the loss, the Mariners maintain a one-game lead in the AL West, and several players expressed enthusiasm for how they played the Astros in this series. The Mariners are in a challenging part of their schedule. Following a four-game series against the Rays at Tropicana Field, Seattle has 13 games against the Angels, Yankees and Red Sox.
"We get down, 3-1, there, and in years past, it would have been a different feeling in the dugout," Kyle Seager said. "There really isn't a lot of panic with this team. We lost tonight, but we still put up a fight."
Segura has 27 multi-hit games, tops in the Majors. It's the seventh time in Mariners history that a player has recorded that many through the first 61 games of a season. Ichiro Suzuki did it the other six times, most recently in 2010, with 29.
HE SAID IT
"Even against such a caliber team like this, when we're down, we never feel out of it. It's fun to be able to do that. It's fun to be able to have that resiliency and camaraderie and we know we're not out of it. We played a good team extremely tough." -- Zunino
Mariners right-hander Mike Leake (5-3, 4.71 ERA) will take the mound on Thursday at 4:10 p.m. PT in the opener of a four-game set against the Rays at Tropicana Field. Over his past five games, Leake has yielded 11 earned runs over 34 innings for a 2.91 ERA, and he has not walked a batter in his past four starts. He will be opposed by Tampa Bay righty Ryne Stanek (1-1, 3.65).
Alyson Footer is a national correspondent for MLB.com. Follow her on Twitter @alysonfooter.