It’s not completely dark yet for the Mariners’ postseason hopes, but it’s getting there. Tuesday’s 3-1 loss to Houston is just one more example in a season filled with too many not-quite-enoughs.
Ariel Miranda more than matched the Astros’ shiny new weapon, Justin Verlander, by pitching six no-hit innings. And it wasn’t enough.
It. Wasn’t. Enough.
"We need to score more runs," designated hitter Nelson Cruz said. "That’s the bottom line. Two runs (Tuesday in a 6-2 loss) and one run (today) are not enough."
Houston didn’t get its first hit Tuesday until the Mariners were on their third pitcher. But when it came, it was loud. Cameron Maybin crushed a full-count fastball from Emilio Pagan for a two-run homer in the seventh inning.
Maybin’s 388-foot drive came after Pagan replaced James Pazos, who exited after issuing a one-out walk to Brian McCann. Pazos (4-5) replaced Miranda to start the inning.
"It was too much in the middle of the plate," Pagan said. "I think it was a nine-pitch at-bat. That deep in the at-bat, you’ve got to make quality pitches because he’s seen everything I’ve got.
"I didn’t make a quality pitch, and he made me pay for it."
The loss dropped the Mariners under .500 at 69-70 and leaves them three games behind the Los Angeles Angels in the race for the American League’s final wild-card berth. The Angels jumped past Minnesota, which lost at Tampa Bay.
The margin isn’t insurmountable for the Mariners, but time is growing tight. They have just 23 games remaining and need to make a run. Wasting six no-hit innings from a starting pitcher doesn’t help.
"I’ll take our chances with our club," manager Scott Servais said. "If we continue to compete like that every night, we’re going to be in this thing all the way to the end. It just hasn’t happened the last two nights."
To be fair, Verlander (11-8) was in top form, too, in his first start since joining the Astros from Detroit in an Aug. 31 trade. He limited the Mariners to one run and six hits over six innings while striking out seven and walking one.
Joe Musgrove and Ken Giles protected Houston’s lead over the final three innings. Giles struck out the side in the ninth inning for his 29th save.
As for Miranda, he threw a career-high 112 pitches and walked six while allowing one run. It was a rocky ride at times.
Miranda turned his right ankle in the third inning and, not coincidentally, walked three batters before a sacrifice fly by Alex Bregman produced a run.
"I just slipped a little bit and rolled the ankle," Miranda said. "I lost a little bit of control there. I lost some concentration and rhythm. Fortunately, I was able get it back."
With two outs in the fifth, Miranda reached out barehanded for a Bregman grounder with a runner at first. Miranda deflected the ball to second baseman Robinson Cano, who tagged second for the force.
Miranda also barehanded Carlos Correa’s one-out hopper in the sixth inning. This time, Miranda made a clean grab and threw to first for the out.
The Mariners then had a chance to position Miranda for a victory after Cano opened the sixth with a liner that appeared to strike Verlander in the midsection. The ball caromed toward the third-base line for a single.
Cruz followed with a single that moved Cano to second, but Kyle Seager, who tied the game with a homer in the fourth inning, grounded into a first-short-pitcher double play that moved Cano to third.
Verlander broke immediately for first base to take the throw from Correa for the second out. The inning ended when Mitch Haniger took a third strike.
"You do need to have a clutch hit here," Servais said, "a big rally and put a crooked number up there."
It didn’t happen, and it’s getting dark.
***Cano times three: Want a silver lining in what was otherwise a pretty dismal offensive performance? Cano had three hits in four at-bats and is 9-for-17 in his last four games.
It’s hard to see the Mariners mounting any kind of run over the final three-plus weeks without a productive Cano.
***Barehanded grabs: Miranda twice reached for ground balls with pitching hand. Once, he deflected the ball to Cano, who turned the play into an out. The other time, Miranda caught the ball cleanly and threw to first for the out.
Asked what drill in PFP (pitchers’ fielding practice) calls for a pitcher to use his pitching hand to grab a grounder, Miranda smiled.
"It was just a reaction play," he said. "My glove was a little farther away, so the closest thing to it was my hand. So just go with that."
Asked if he plans to keep doing it, Miranda said: "There’s always a glove, but there’s a possibility of using my (bare) hand or even my teeth if I have to."
***God protect our island: With the impact of Hurricane Harvey still being assessed, and Hurricane Irma bearing down on Puerto Rico and the Florida coast, Mariners closer Edwin Diaz sent out a heartfelt tweet prior to Tuesday’s game.
It was in Spanish: "Dios proteja a nuestra isla" followed by two emojis of hands clasped in prayer.
God protect our island.
Bob Dutton: @TNT_Mariners