M’s lose Astros series, Saunders, fans

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SEATTLE — It’s hard to imagine a first inning for Seattle much worse than the Mariners experienced on Tuesday, but they got it on Wednesday. And that despite retiring the Houston Astros in order.

The Mariners, however, lost right fielder Michael Saunders to a shoulder injury when he crashed into the wall making a spectacular catch on a drive by Houston leadoff hitter Jose Altuve.

And then they lost the game, a damaging 8-3 defeat that was witnessed, for the second night in a row, by the smallest crowd in Safeco Field history. They drew 10,493, which was 252 fewer than witnessed their 16-9 debacle a night earlier.

The Mariners thus dropped the series to the Astros, billed as the worst team in baseball. They have won the opener and dropped the final two games in all three of their series this season. And they managed just six hits in the process (half of them by Kelly Shoppach), while the Astros banged out 15 to go with 22 on Tuesday.

“It’s the major leagues,” Mariners manager Eric Wedge said. “I’ve said it before: If we play the way we’re capable of playing, we can beat anybody. If we don’t, anybody can beat us. It’s as simple as that.

“You can’t give up that many hits in two nights and expect to win ballgames. You’ve got to work hard to get ahead and stay ahead, and when you do, you have to finish them off. We’ve just made too many mistakes from a pitching standpoint.”

But the Saunders injury — diagnosed as a right shoulder sprain — overshadowed the defeat. Saunders was to be re-examined by team doctor Edward Khalfayan, but Wedge said he would definitely miss time.

“It could be a DL situation, but we’re working through everything right now,” Wedge said.

Saunders was hitting .286 with a homer and five runs batted in. After grabbing Altuve’s ball and nearly simultaneously hitting the wall at full speed, Saunders crumpled to the ground and lay on his back as trainer Rick Griffin tended to him. Saunders eventually walked off and was replaced by Jason Bay.

“Michael’s a hard-nosed player, and that was a heck of a play,” Wedge said. “But we all saw he hit that fence hard. Hopefully, it’s nothing too serious. I don’t think it is.”

Mariners starter Blake Beavan said he checked on Saunders after the inning, “and he told me he’d do that again. That’s the kind of teammates we have in this locker room. Any time you got a guy like Michael who plays his heart out every time a ball is hit to the outfield, you tip your cap to a guy like that.”

The Mariners, who trailed 13-0 after four innings on Tuesday as rookie starter Brandon Maurer failed to make it out of the first, fell behind 5-0 after three innings in this one. That included a two-run homer off Beavan in the second inning by Rick Ankiel, who had struck out 12 times in 14 at-bats previously this season.

“I made some mistakes in the second inning, getting beat with my fourth-best pitch,” Beavan said, referring to his changeup. “Overthinking again and not sticking to what was working.”

The Mariners also allowed their first unearned run this season in the third, the result of a pop-up that Brendan Ryan couldn’t locate. It glanced off the glove of fast-charging center fielder Franklin Gutierrez, who was charged with the error.

The Mariners charged back, using the long ball. Shoppach hit his first Mariners homer in the third inning, then nearly went deep again in the fifth. His drive hit off the very top of the wall in left-center as Dustin Ackley scooted home from first base. The Mariners argued that Shoppach’s ball had gone out, but after a replay review by the umpires that took all of 55 seconds, the double call was upheld. He was stranded there.

A leadoff homer by Franklin Gutierrez in the sixth — his third, this one to the opposite field — cut Houston’s lead to 5-3. But the Astros stretched it back out in the seventh when Chris Carter hit his third homer in the last two games. This one came off Carter Capps with a man aboard.

Marwin Gonzalez added another homer — the 13th combined between the teams in the past two games — off Capps in the eighth.

“I like our team,” Wedge said. “We’ve not played well the last couple of days. If you don’t play well, it doesn’t matter. It’s the big leagues, you’re going to get beat. We’ve got guys who are still trying to find themselves, and they will. It’s tough when you’re working through it.”

Reliever Bobby LaFromboise, called up from Tacoma earlier in the day, made his major-league debut in the ninth. He struck out the first hitter he faced — red-hot Carter — on a called third strike, and followed with a strikeout of equally hot Carlos Pena. LaFromboise then completed an excellent debut by getting J.D. Martinez on a ground out.

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