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Leake vexed by Astros; Seattle out of West race

September 18, 2018

HOUSTON -- Mike Leake takes pride in being a guy who takes the ball every fifth day and has proven to be one of the most durable starters in baseball in recent years.The Mariners right-hander made his 30th start of the year Tuesday, making it seven straight seasons of 30-plus

HOUSTON -- Mike Leake takes pride in being a guy who takes the ball every fifth day and has proven to be one of the most durable starters in baseball in recent years.
The Mariners right-hander made his 30th start of the year Tuesday, making it seven straight seasons of 30-plus starts for the slender 30-year-old. Unfortunately for Leake, four of those starts this season have come against the Astros, including a 7-0 loss in Tuesday's latest encounter.
Robinson Cano went 3-for-4 with two doubles, but the Mariners totaled just six hits on the night, including four in 5 1/3 innings off hard-throwing rookie right-hander Josh James in his second Major League start.
Leake allowed five runs on six hits over 6 1/3 innings and is now 10-10 with a 4.10 ERA on the season, including 0-3 with a 5.55 ERA in four starts vs. Houston. The Mariners are 18-8 when Leake has started against any other team, but 1-3 against the Astros.
The veteran didn't get much help from his defense in a four-run third inning that proved costly.
"I thought Mike threw the ball really well for the most part," said manager Scott Servais. "That one inning seems to be the story of his season. In games we don't come back and win, it's usually that one inning that gets him. And it's usually tied around some defensive play that wasn't completed and that gets the ball rolling for the other team. And that's what happened tonight."

Still, Leake is zeroing on a pretty amazing accomplishment. He's walked just 34 batters in his first 30 starts and -- with likely two starts remaining -- is on the verge of joining Greg Maddux as the only pitchers in the live-ball era (since 1920) with seven consecutive seasons of 30-plus starts and 50 or fewer walks.
"I think that's what has given me my career," Leake said of his ability to stay healthy and productive each year. "If I haven't done this, I don't know where I'd be."
The rest of the Mariners have fared better against the defending World Series champs as they're 9-9 in the season series and 6-2 at Minute Maid Park heading into Wednesday's final meeting of 2018.
But Tuesday's loss mathematically eliminated Seattle from the American League West race with an 83-68 record, 12 games back of the Astros with just 11 games to go. The Mariners' Wild Card elimination number (any combination of Oakland wins or Seattle losses) is down to five.
Four of Houston's runs off Leake came in the third inning, capped by a two-run homer by Marwin Gonzalez, who is 8-for-14 in his career against the Mariners right-hander.

"That's a tough lineup and they're going to possibly be in the World Series," Leake said. "That's the team to beat from last year. It's nice to be able to face them and it's a good feeling to be able compete against them and get them out and [sometimes] they hit me as well. I guess Gonzalez owns me right now."
In the third, Leake hit leadoff hitter Brian McCann with an 0-2 pitch, then gave up a double to Tony Kemp. An RBI single by George Springer and run-scoring groundout by Jose Altuve preceded Gonzalez's home run just over the fence in left-center.
"I got into a bad situation and then kind of left that ball up to Marwin so he could drive it," Leake said. "But overall I felt like I threw the ball fairly well."
Leake might have gotten out of the four-run third inning largely unscathed if Cano, playing just his eighth game at first base, had been able to make a play on Kemp's double down the line. Instead, the ball scooted off his glove as he went to his left and wound up rolling to the right-field corner. Instead of an out, the Astros were rolling and Gonzalez's two-out, two-run homer likely never would have occurred.

"It's hard. You're used to one position," said Cano. "It was a hard one and I think the mistake I made was moving my left foot back instead of just leaving it there. That's the kind of stuff when you play a different position and you worry about making mistakes. That's the last thing you want."
Cano doubled leading off the sixth on a 109 mph ground ball that deflected off the first-base bag into shallow right field. It was the 529th double of his career, tying him with Al Oliver for 41st on MLB's all-time list. He didn't wait long to move past Oliver with No. 530, lacing a line drive in the eighth that right fielder Springer couldn't quite hang on to after a full-extension dive. Cano needs four more to move into a share of 40th place with Lou Gehrig.

"When you start talking about those kind of names and the history of baseball, that certainly says a lot," Servais said. "Robbie has been out there a long time and the extra-base hits and getting the doubles are part of his game. He swung the bat well tonight."
"Anytime your name comes up with those kind of names, as a player it makes you want to work harder," Cano said. "But at the end of the day, it's more about wins and losses. I don't want to say I was the one who cost us the game today, but if I'd been able to make that one play, it would have been a different game."
"We knew that was the story here since Robbie came back and joined the team. That was the situation we were going to try to manage. We're looking to keep bats in there. Offense has been an issue here in the second half. In doing so, you're going to shift guys around a little. We weren't able to make the plays tonight, but it's what the plan was and we'll stick with the plan." -- Servais, on a defense that struggled to make several key plays with Cano and Dee Gordon in unfamiliar positions
Gonzalez's two-run homer in the third came only after he initially was held up at second base after his deep drive to left was called a double. But a quick review showed the ball bounced off the railing above the yellow line signifying the top of the fence in left field at Minute Maid Park, and Gonzalez was waved home to give the Astros a 4-0 lead.

The Mariners will go with a bullpen game against the Astros in Wednesday's 5:10 p.m. PT series finale at Minute Maid Park as lefty James Paxton isn't ready to return yet after dealing with a bout of flu and pneumonia last week. Left-hander Roenis Elias (2-1, 3.18 ERA) threw 3 2/3 scoreless innings in a spot start in place of Paxton last Friday in Anaheim and appears the first option, but Servais could choose to go with Casey Lawrence or another right-handed reliever as an "opener" against the Astros' right-handed-heavy lineup. Lefty Dallas Keuchel (11-10, 3.57) gets the start for Houston.

Greg Johns has covered the Mariners since 1997, and for since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB.