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Drayer: Mariners’ historic 21-1 loss to Houston was a perfect storm

The Mariners pitching staff received no breaks Sunday in Seattle's 21-1 loss to the Astros. (Getty)

The Mariners managed to dodge an ignominious mark on Sunday in their 21-1 loss to the Astros, as they narrowly avoided allowed the most runs in a single game in franchise history by just a single run. They were not able to avoid another, however.

Astros complete sweep, hand Mariners record-setting 21-1 loss

A loss that that the Mariners would like to tuck away and forget like other lopsided losses throughout the years instead garners extra notice as that 21-1 score goes into the books as the worst loss in franchise history. It eclipses the previous mark set on April 17, 1993 when the Mariners fell 20-3 to the Tigers.

And it was indeed that bad on Sunday in Houston.

Expectations were not high going into the game Sunday at Minute Maid Park. Gerrit Cole, one of the Astros’ co-aces, was coming off back-to-back games where he struck out 14 batters or more. By the end of the day he would become just the second pitcher in baseball history to record three consecutive games with at least 14 strikeouts, joining Hall of Famer Pedro Martinez. Cole struck out 15 in eight innings and did not allow a walk. The only blemish on his line was the one hit he gave up, a solo home run to Shed Long.

Long’s homer was perhaps all that prevented the already horrific loss from becoming perhaps one of the most futile losses in baseball history. Had Long not come up with the hit it’s hard to imagine that Astros manager A.J. Hinch would not have allowed Cole to return for the ninth inning at 96 pitches and with a shot at a perfecto. So in that respect, it could have been worse for the Mariners.

Instead they will have to settle for an absolute shellacking in Houston, and a painful one at that. Félix Hernández, trying to find some semblance of his decent form, started out strong by retiring the first five batters he faced. With two outs in the third inning, however, the wheels came off. With runners on first and second, Félix got the ground ball he needed to get out of the inning, but Dee Gordon at shortstop booted the ball and two runs scored. A home run by Jake Marisnick followed before Félix could get George Springer to fly out to end the inning. Four runs scored – none of them earned, but damage done.

The true nightmare would occur in the next inning. Félix faced seven batters without recording an out. While some of the hits just got through the infield and some perhaps were benefited by less than stellar play in the outfield, the exit velocities of the balls that were put in play told the story. Three of the five hits allowed had exit velocities of over 100 mph, with another over 95 mph. Félix was hit hard. When he was lifted from the game without recording an out in the third inning, he had given up 11 runs, seven of which were earned.

“I was fine until the third inning,” Félix said after the game. “I fell behind a lot, had to throw strikes and they hit the ball pretty hard. That’s a pretty good lineup over there. You can’t miss.”

Félix wasn’t alone in his struggles against the Astros lineup. Erik Swanson, Wade LeBlanc and Reggie McClain combined to give up 10 more runs. Zac Grotz was the only Mariners pitcher to escape the day without giving up a run.

“We got hammered,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said. “What can you say? Gerrit Cole is one of the top pitchers in the league and you certainly saw that today. He’s been really, really good. Not just against us, against the whole league. We knew that coming into the game. You’re up against it and hoping to hold them down, but that just wasn’t the case.”

With the win over the Mariners, the Astros improved to 27-2 against division opponents at Minute Maid Park this season – an almost unimaginable record. For perspective, the 2001 Mariners that won a MLB record-tying 116 games had a 21-9 record against the division.

With the loss, the Mariners fell to 1-16 against the Astros this year. They will get two more shots at them later this month at T-Mobile Park, giving Seattle a chance to avoid at least the outright franchise-worst record against a division opponent – the 2006 Mariners went 2-17 against the A’s.

As ugly as it was – and it was – the game goes down as a singular loss in the loss column. The Astros’ dominance over this team should not be a surprise. The Mariners ran lineups out against the Astros in the four-game series that featured large numbers of rookies and players who spent the majority of the season in the minor leagues. One lineup featured six players with less than one year service time and a seventh, catcher Tom Murphy, who had barely exceeded a full year. On the pitching side it’s more of the same, particularly in the bullpen.

Sunday notwithstanding, to expect this group to fare much better than it did against a team that currently holds the best record in baseball and is well on its way to putting up its third straight 100-win season is perhaps not reasonable. The 2019 Mariners season was never about the wins and losses, it was about development and learning about players who could play roles on the team in the future.

That was reiterated on Saturday by general manager Jerry Dipoto when he was asked about his expectations for the club in these games.

“They are playing the best of the best,” Dipoto answered. “And not just the best in the American League – one of the best in baseball in decades. They (the Astros) are a phenomenal team. You’d like to see them (the Mariners) show up. You want to see them compete. Most of all you want to see them get up off the mat when when they have a little bit of a struggle. The players have to familiarize themselves of how to get off the mat when they go through the 0 for 10s, the 0 for 12s. It’s inevitable. How they respond and how quickly they come back will really tell the story of what kind of career they can have.”

For some it could be harder than others. For Félix, pitching with a pressure he has never felt before – the opportunity to pitch somewhere next season – this game cut deep.

“It’s been frustrating the last two starts just grinding and grinding,” he said. “It (his final starts of this season) means a lot for me to go out there and compete the way I compete every five days.”

For a young player like Long, it is easier to chalk Sunday’s loss up as an eye-opening experience, with much to be learned from those on the other side.

“You take it and you learn from it,” Long said. “You have good days and then you have learning days. You learn from everything they do. The way they play the game, they way they handle their at-bats. It’s a learning experience.”

Baseball is a game of short memory. Losses, regardless of how ugly they are, rarely have an impact on the game that follows. The Mariners will look to get off the mat as a team Tuesday against the Reds. Another challenge will be at hand with Trevor Bauer, who is fourth in baseball in strikeouts, scheduled to pitch Game 1 for Cincinnati.

Follow Shannon Drayer on Twitter.

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