SEATTLE - The season will end Sunday for the Seattle Mariners.
The franchise streak of never making the playoffs in consecutive seasons remains intact after a deflating 6-1 loss to the Texas Rangers on Saturday afternoon put the Mariners on the brink of elimination. A 1-0 Houston Astros win over the Arizona Diamondbacks about 30 after Seattle's game ended, pushed them over the edge.
The Mariners were always going to need some help to find their way into the playoffs after losing a chance to control their own destiny over the previous week. But they also had multiple ways to get over the finish line over the final two days of the season. However, those mostly involved winning their own games first.
Seattle had their ace in Luis Castillo on the mound facing a Rangers starter in Andrew Heaney that hadn't made a start since September 4 while being moved to the bullpen. But Castillo didn't have his best stuff on Saturday afternoon and the Rangers chased him before the end of the third inning. The Mariners had one big chance to get back in the game in the fifth inning but came up empty with the bases loaded.
Hopes were then extinguished altogether as players circled TVs in the clubhouse to watch the final outs of the Astros victory over Arizona.
"It’s tough," catcher Cal Raleigh said. "We did have control and we just didn’t get it done at the end of the day. It falls on us, nobody except us and it’s something we’re going to have to live with this whole offseason."
Castillo avoided taking damage in the first two innings, but it took 44 pitches to do so. Then in the third, the game spiraled out of hand with Castillo unable to get the third out needed.
Castillo issued a leadoff walk to Marcus Semien, but got Corey Seager to fly out to left field before striking out Robbie Grossman for the second out. A chopper up the third baseline was beat out by Adolis García and Nathaniel Lowe followed with a single to center field that drove in Semien for the first run of the game.
Josh Jung worked a walk to load the bases before Jonah Heim slapped a single through the infield to drive in two more runs for a 3-0 lead. Leody Taveras followed with a soft liner to right field that dropped in to score Jung and the Rangers lead was quickly 4-0.
One final walk issued to Evan Carter loaded the bases once again and ended Castillo's day.
Castillo reached full counts on all five batters he walked but was unable to get the knockout punch. Additionally, Heim's RBI single came in an 0-2 count after fouling off three pitches as Castillo couldn't get the swing-and-miss needed.
"Very uncharacteristic of what the Mariners are about," manager Scott Servais said. "Controlling the strike zone, the walks got us today. … It wasn't vintage Luis Castillo. He was just off a little bit today and they took advantage of it.
"Our calling card is pounding the zone and throwing strikes and we did not do that. Against a good offensive team, eventually it's going to catch up with you and that's what happened today."
Dylan Moore made a terrific diving catch in left field to rob Semien to finally end the third inning procession for Texas.
Seager led off the fourth inning with a single off Seattle reliever Matt Brash and advanced to second on a wild pitch. Brash walked García and hit Jung with a pitch to load the bases before walking Heim to plate another run for a 5-0 Rangers lead.
Castillo made two starts at home for the Mariners over the final week of the season against the two division rivals they were chasing in the playoff race. In those two starts, Castillo allowed nine runs on 13 hits with six walks and eight strikeouts in 8 ⅔ innings pitched. When the team needed their ace to deliver the most, Castillo instead combined for a 9.35 ERA in the biggest two starts of the season.
Castillo threw 86 pitches in the outing and was unable to get out of the third inning. It was his shortest start in a Seattle uniform and the shortest appearance since May 22, 2019, in a start against the Milwaukee Brewers while he was pitching for the Cincinnati Reds.
"He's had such a good track record with us. He's been so dominant. Not good, but dominant. We're talking about one of the top five starters in the league, and to see it kind of flip the way it does, it's surprising. There's no question about it," Servais said.
Of course, Seattle's offense didn't provide much to the cause either. The best chance to produce a substantive rally came in the fifth inning.
Ty France singled with through the right side to lead off the inning and Sam Haggerty followed with a one-out single through the left side to put a pair of runners on. J.P. Crawford then dropped a jammed fly ball between three defenders in shallow right field to load the bases and chase Heaney from the game. But reliever Josh Sborz came in and forced Julio Rodríguez to fly out to left and got Eugenio Suárez to ground out to third base to eliminate Seattle's best chance of the game.
"It's kind of been our Achilles heel all year," Servais said. "We've had that opportunity multiple times this season and haven't been able to just get the hit or keep the rally going to keep the pressure on. Again, you need big things to happen at that point when you're down 5-0 and we weren't able to make it happen today."
Another walk came back to bite the Mariners in the eighth inning as a leadoff pass issued to Carter by Andrés Muñoz came around to score on a Seager double into the left-center field gap for a 6-0 Texas advantage.
Suárez homered off Cody Bradford with one out in the eighth inning to finally get the Mariners on the board, but it was far too little, too late.