SEATTLE — The battery of Jeremy Bonderman and Mike Zunino had bonded frequently this season in the minor leagues, but on Wednesday, they were clicking on the biggest stage.
Or at least as big a stage as a game between two second-division teams witnessed by an announced crowd of 13,823 can be.
But a potential storybook night for the Seattle Mariners was thwarted in a disastrous ninth when Tom Wilhelmsen couldn’t nail down the save. The Houston Astros, held scoreless their previous 17 innings by the Mariners, unloaded for six in the ninth and stole a 6-1 victory at Safeco Field.
On a night when Bonderman pitched brilliantly and 22-year-old Zunino made his major-league debut, the Mariners took a 1-0 lead into the ninth with a major assist from another 22-year-old rookie — Nick Franklin — whose big-league career is barely two weeks old.
Franklin’s two-out single in the eighth scored Endy Chavez from second base, breaking a scoreless tie and setting up Bonderman for his second straight victory.
But Wilhelmsen gave up two quick hits to start the ninth, and then yielded the decisive blow: A bases-loaded double off the left-field wall by Chris Carter that scored two. Yoervis Medina gave up at third run on a base-loaded single by Brandon Barnes off left fielder. A two-run single by Jose Altuve off Medina broke it wide open as Houston sent 12 batters to the plate. A bases-loaded walk by Charlie Furbush completed the debacle.
Bonderman’s third major-league start of the year after a two-year absence from The Show was his best yet as he blanked the Astros on three hits over eight innings. And Zunino, starting behind the plate a day after being called up from Triple-A Tacoma, delivered his first hit in the fourth inning, a solid single to center on an 0-2 curveball.
Zunino also was successful in his first throwing attempt, gunning down would-be basestealer Marwin Gonzalez handily with a perfect peg in the eighth. Meanwhile, Bonderman fired one masterful pitch after another to Zunino, taming a weak-hitting Houston lineup.
Chavez led off the eighth with a single, and when the Astros botched Jason Bay’s sacrifice, leaving runners on first and second, the Mariners were in business. But Kyle Seager popped out and Raul Ibanez struck out, leaving it up to Franklin. And he came through, lining an opposite-single to right off former Mariner lefty Travis Blackley.
The way Bonderman is pitching, it’s looking like his ominous first start, in which he was rocked for nine hits and seven runs in 4 2/3 innings by the Minnesota Twins, was an aberration.
He followed up with a strong effort against the Yankees, limiting them to three hits and one run over six innings in earning his first victory since Sept. 8, 2010.
His outing Wednesday was reminiscent of his Detroit heyday, when Bonderman won 14 games twice and struck out 202 in 2006. Bonderman struck out five and walked two.
With his fastball peaking at 94 mph and his breaking pitches baffling the hapless Astros lineup — fresh off being blanked on two hits by Aaron Harang the night before — Bonderman allowed just two base runners past first base.
He gave up a one-out double in the third to Brandon Barnes, but held him there. The Astros’ biggest threat came in the fourth when Jason Castro led off with a double, followed by a walk by J.D. Martinez.
But Carlos Corporan flied out, and Carlos Pena hit into a force at second. With runners on the corners, Chris Carter grounded into another force, and Bonderman had escaped.
Houston’s only other base runners off Bonderman were a one-out walk by Castro in the sixth, and a one-out single by Marwin Gonzalez in the eighth. Gonzalez was erased by a perfect throw by Zunino on a steal attempt
The Mariners, meanwhile, weren’t doing much more with Houston starter Jordan Lyles, who blanked them on three hits over seven innings. Lyles fanned a career-high 10, becoming the ninth starter this year to reach double-digit strikeouts against the Mariners.
The M’s best shot off Lyles came in the fourth when Franklin ripped a one-out double into the right-field corner. Zunino then rocketed a line drive to center for his first hit — so well struck that Franklin had to stop at third. Michael Saunders walked to load the bases, but Lyles struck out both Brendan Ryan and Alex Liddi.