SEATTLE — The future looks even better up close.
Not that many were at Safeco Field to catch a glimpse. In a forgettable season where daydreaming about what might be is more entertaining than the reality on the field, an all-time Safeco Field low 9,808 fans showed up to catch youthful Mariners pitcher Taijuan Walker on Monday.
The Mariners’ previous low attendance at Safeco Field was 9,818 on April 29.
Walker twitched and puffed his cheeks like a typical 21-year-old. But his throws were pure power, savvy and confident in pressure situations.
It was the expected blips that led visiting Houston to collect two runs early and unusual quirks that allowed the Astros four runs in the ninth inning for a 6-4 win when the game appeared to be won by the Mariners.
Leading 3-2, Mariners pitcher Danny Farquhar recorded his first blown save since Aug. 14. He allowed four runs, three earned, and walked two runners.
“It’s definitely going to be hard to sleep,” Farquhar said of the loss. “You learn your mistakes – try not to walk two guys to put a guy in scoring position – and move on ... we’ll just get them (Tuesday).”
The wildest play came with the damage already done and Houston leading 5-3.
First baseman Justin Smoak caught a foul ball for an out and intended to throw home to stall a runner at third.
But Astros center fielder Trevor Crowe saw Smoak catch his foul ball, Crowe knelt outside the first-base line with his back to Smoak as the Mariner first baseman threw home. The ball bounced off Crowe’s backside, allowing a runner in.
The crowd hissed and booed and all of the umpires convened to discuss the odd play. The ruling stood, with the Mariners hobbling out of the inning down 6-3.
“They said it wasn’t intentional,” Wedge said of the ruling. “I’ve seen a lot of crazy things, but not that I can recall, something like that.”
Another late-summer call-up, teammate Abraham Almonte knocked out his first home run in the seventh inning deep to right field, driving in Brad Miller to move the Mariners ahead 3-2.
Monday marked Walker’s last game this season. Ranked fourth on MLB.com’s top-100 prospects, Walker made his Mariners’ debut against Houston in August along with Almonte, getting a 7-1 win. After a rocky loss in Kansas City, he made his debut at Safeco Field.
He allowed five hits, two earned runs and struck out eight in five innings.
“The best thing about tonight was I thought he was better as the game wore on,” Mariners manager Eric Wedge said. “He did a good job using all of his pitches, again ... in three different outings, we’ve seen three different types of games from him and all good.”
The sparse crowd had fun. Three bats flew like helicopters into the seats along the first-base line and fans attempting to catch foul balls elicited some of the only cheers.
Until Almonte’s booming hit in the seventh.
“The first one in the big leagues, it feels really good,” Almonte said of his homer, making sure to get the ball to give to his mother.
• Mariners ace Felix Hernandez will not start Wednesday as planned, hampered by a minor oblique strain on the left side, according to manager Eric Wedge.
Right-hander Brandon Maurer will replace Hernandez in the lineup. Maurer is 4-7 with a 6.85 earned-run average.
Wedge said Hernandez would test the oblique later this week. Hernandez has thrown 1941 / 3 innings. He was originally supposed to pitch Sunday, hoping the pain he felt Sept. 2 would subside.
Hernandez doesn’t want to sit out the remainder of the season as a precautionary measure.
“Any competitor wants to finish what he started,” Wedge said. “We’ll really have to look closely at how he feels after he throws later in the week. That will be a good indicator for us of where we’re at.”