SEATTLE — For six innings, Mike Leake’s mixture of deception, location and execution had kept the Houston Astros largely off balance and off the bases.
Slight in stature, unimpressive in velocity but big on fearlessness, Leake went right at the defending World Series champions on Wednesday night.
And he was winning the battle.
But then the Goliath that is the Astros offense, which had been unimpressive in more than a few games early in the season, remembered its capabilities all at once in one explosive inning.
Houston finally broke through against Leake in the seventh inning, knocking him from the game and continuing the pounding on the Mariners bullpen, scoring six runs in the frame and pulling away for an easy 7-1 victory.
It took three Mariners pitchers — Leake, right-hander Nick Vincent and lefty James Pazos — to complete the seventh in which 11 Astros batters came to the plate, six of them notching hits. Add in an error from Mitch Haniger and a leadoff walk that started all the problems, and you get an inning that sent a large portion of the 14,643 at Safeco Field for the exits.
Leake had been so solid for six innings, using an array of off-speed pitches and pinpoint location with his sinker. He’d allowed one run on four hits and struck out seven batters. He worked around a leadoff double to Carlos Correa in the fourth by striking out the next three hitters. He even got the speedy Jose Altuve to ground into a pair of double plays.
“It was probably the best pure stuff that Mike Leake has had all year,” manager Scott Servais said. “He was really on top of his game outside of the run he gave up in the second inning. He was getting the ball down, really good command of the breaking ball. I thought he was throwing the ball outstanding.”
But then his sorcery expired.
“I felt like I had a lot of bite on my pitches tonight, unfortunately it only lasted for six innings,” Leake said.
He walked Josh Reddick to start the seventh and then surrendered a double to Yuli Gurriel. Marwin Gonzalez ambushed the first pitch he saw from Leake for a single to center that scored both runners, breaking a 1-1 tie.
“That one daggered me in the back of the head,” Leake said of the leadoff walk.
Brian McCann followed with a screaming double to right-center just out of the reach of a lunging Dee Gordon to score Reddick to make it 4-1.
“I left a few balls up,” Leake said. “And with a lineup like that, you don’t get many chances.”
The avalanche of offense swallowed up Vincent, who got just one out and gave up three hits. Pazos finally stopped it, getting the final two outs of the inning.
“We have an explosive offense,” Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. “I don’t think we can allow a little bit of a rough patch to get in the way of that reality. We’re a really good offensive club when we get pitches to hit. We capitalized on a mistake or two. We’re a good offense, and don’t forget that.”
Not sure that’s possible for the Mariners or their fans.
Leake was charged with five earned runs in the loss. He hadn’t allowed more than three runs in his previous eight starts.
Even with the run-scoring fiesta in the seventh, the Mariners offense, or lack thereof, cannot be overlooked for its role in the defeat
For the third time in four games, Seattle mustered just one run — all losses. And in their one win in this series, the Mariners scored just two runs.
“Our bats have gotten cooled off,” Servais said. “Give some credit to their pitching and how they’ve attacked us. Hopefully we’ll get after them tomorrow and get a split in this series and head out on the road.”
To be fair, they weren’t expected to score a plethora of runs against the four starters that the Astros rolled out in the series.
Right-hander Gerrit Cole, who Houston acquired from the Pirates in the offseason, had been dominant in his first three starts of the season, allowing just three runs in 21 innings with 36 strikeouts and four walks.
He continued that in his fourth start.
Cole pitched seven innings, allowing just one run on five hits with two walks and five strikeouts, improving to 2-0 on the season.
“He wasn’t perfect in his execution, or even his stuff,” Hinch said. “He can take his good stuff and navigate around a lineup.”