HOUSTON — The difference between waste and colossal waste played out on an Independence Day Monday in a 2-1 loss for the Mariners in their series opener against Houston at Minute Maid Park.
Runner at first with no outs in the first inning? Nothing. Bases loaded with no outs in the seventh inning? Nothing? Wade Miley’s best start in roughly a month? They got nothing from that, too.
Nothing, that is, but a loss that snapped their four-game winning streak and prevented the Mariners from reclaiming second place in the American League West Division.
Not much to celebrate on the holiday.
Houston right-hander Lance McCullers (4-2) hadn’t pitched since June 22 because of a blister on his right index finger. Say this: He made pitches when he needed to do so. He struck out 10 and walked one.
Like in the seventh when, trailing by one run, the Mariners got a leadoff single from Robinson Cano before McCullers issued his only walk, on four pitches that weren’t close, to Nelson Cruz.
When Kyle Seager sliced a single to left, the Mariners had the bases loaded with no outs.
And came up empty.
Dae-Ho Lee bounced into a 1-2-3 double play (pitcher-catcher-first). Adam Lind flied out to left.
"I was trying to go to right field," Lee said, "and it was a hittable pitch. I just missed it."
That was the game, really.
"We were chasing a lot of bad pitches," Cano said, including myself. But we had a situation with bases loaded, and (McCullers) got a ground-ball double play and got out of that inning.
The Astros turned to their bullpen for the final two innings and received strong outings from Luke Gregerson and Will Harris. The latter collected his eighth save in eight chances.
The victory enabled Houston, at 44-39, to pull one game ahead of the Mariners (43-40). The Astros picked up a game on first-place Texas, while the Mariners remained 8 1/2 games back.
Miley (6-5) recovered from a first inning, when everything the Astros hit resembled a bottle rocket, by delivering his fifth quality start in 15 outings. He held the Astros to two runs in 6 2/3 innings.
"The first inning," Miley said, "I was feeling for some stuff. I was kind of lucky to get out of the inning with only giving up one (run). After that, it was, `Just trust yourself. Stop trying to think too much.’
"Obviously, there’s some more work to be done, but it’s definitely a step in the right direction."
The Mariners set the tone in the first inning. Leonys Martin opened the game with a triple onto Tal’s Hill in straight-away center field before that threat collapsed in magnificent inefficiency.
With Houston conceding a run by playing its infield back, Seth Smith took a third strike. Cano then waved at a third strike in the dirt. The ball got away from catcher Jason Castro, who recovered and threw to first for the out.
Martin tried to score on the throw to first, but Marwin Gonzalez made an accurate throw to McCullers, who was covering the plate. Martin was out. A double play. The inning was over.
"If he had taken off the minute the catcher grabbed the ball and spun…," manager Scott Servais said. "He didn’t. He waited until the ball was out of the catcher’s hand. Then he went.
"Would it have made a difference? It very well could have."
George Springer started the Houston first inning with a ringing double off the left-center wall. He moved to third on Gonzalez’s single through the left side.
Miley got an out when shortstop Ketel Marte snagged Jose Altuve’s liner, but a walk to Carlos Correa loaded the bases. Miley escaped with just one run, which scored on Luis Valbuena’s loud sacrifice fly to deep center.
The Mariners answered by pulling even in the second inning after Seager’s one-out double — a fan touched the ball down the right-field line; there’s no guarantee Seager would have beaten a throw from Springer.
Lee followed with an RBI single to right.
It stayed 1-1 until Springer launched a 1-0 change-up for a two-out homer in the fifth inning. A 454-foot launch to left.
"I was trying to go sinker down and away there," Miley said, "and I cut it back over the middle of the plate. Just a mistake pitch. He did what he’s supposed to do with it."
Unlike the Mariners.
PLAY OF THE GAME: One of the signature plays last October in the World Series was the dash by Kansas City’s Eric Hosmer to the plate on weak grounder to third against the New York Mets.
Hosmer scored the tying run in the ninth inning of the fifth game, and the Royals went on to win the game — and the World Series — in extra innings.
Leonys Martin’s effort to score from third Monday’s wasn’t quite the same thing, but it was close enough. Houston catcher Jason Castro had to retrieve a blocked ball and throw to first after Robinson Cano’s swinging third strike.
Martin broke for the plate as Castro released the ball, but first baseman Marwin Gonzalez made an accurate to pitcher Lance McCullers at the plate. Martin was an easy out.
"I tried to be aggressive," Martin said, "but I was a little late. As soon as (Castro) turned around to throw to first, I should have gone. If I get (another) opportunity, I would do it (again).
"I’m not afraid. Just do it a little bit sooner. As soon as I see him turn around to go to first base, I have to go."
PLUS: Reliever Tom Wilhelmsen had a another strong outing by retiring three of four batters after replacing starter Wade Miley. The only runner to reach against Wilhelmsen was Jose Altuve on a squib single. Wilhelmsen had three scoreless outings since rejoining the Mariners after compiling a 10.55 ERA in 21 games for Texas…Kyle Seager had two of the Mariners’ five hits and raised his average to .274.
MINUS: After hitting homers in each of the last four games, Seth Smith went 0-for-4 with three strikeouts…reliever David Rollins wobbled through his one-third of an inning after replacing Tom Wilhelmsen with two outs and a runner at first in the eighth inning. Rollins had two walks and a wild pitch before ending the inning…first baseman Adam Lind was 0-for-3 with two strikeouts.
STAT PACK: Leonys Martin is one of Mariners’ faster players, but his triple in the first inning was his first since Sept. 7, 2014 while playing for Texas against the Mariners. He went 593 at-bats and 649 plate appearances over 178 games between triples.
QUOTABLE: Mariners lefty Wade Miley appeared headed for another short outing when he gave up a series of hard-hit balls in the first inning. But he limited the damage to one run, and then settled into a groove.
He kind of looked like the Wade Miley we saw back in May," manager Scott Servais said, "which is definitely a positive sign. We certainly need that out of him."
SHORT HOPS: Leonys Martin is batting .316 (24-for-76) in 18 games as the Mariners’ leadoff hitter…the Mariners and Astros have split the first eight games of their season series…Robinson Cano’s single in the seventh inning extended his hitting against Houston to 14 games.
Bob Dutton: @TNT_Mariners