By Bob Dutton The News Tribune
HOUSTON — Winning masks all blemishes, according to Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon, so it’s straight to the dessert menu after Saturday’s wild 9-8 victory over the Houston Astros.
Or something like that.
“A win is a win,” McClendon insisted. “Look, people say you win ugly. I don’t buy that. A win is a win. Playing great and losing, you don’t get the ice cream for that. We’ll get ice cream tonight. We won. That’s all that counts.”
Sure, but what a ride.
Just when the Mariners appeared poised to waste a solid outing by Hisashi Iwakuma in his return from the disabled list … well, who saw this coming?
Aided by three walks from Houston starter Dallas Keuchel, who hadn’t walked anyone in the first six innings, the Mariners roused themselves for eight runs in the seventh for a 9-2 lead.
“Kuma kept us in the game,” first baseman Justin Smoak said, “and then we had the big inning. We got guys on base, and we got some hits when we needed to.”
Smoak started the rally with a leadoff walk against Keuchel (2-2) and capped the eight-spot by crushing a two-run homer against Raul Valdes.
And, yes, if you need to ask, those eight runs marked the Mariners’ biggest inning this season. (They entered the game ranked next-to-last in the American League in runs.)
Forcing the Astros into a standing-eight should have been plenty since, entering the day, they ranked last among AL clubs in scoring. Instead, eight was barely enough.
But it was enough.
Fernando Rodney stranded three runners after replacing an ineffective Yoervis Medina in the eighth inning and closed out a four-out save with a scoreless ninth for his seventh save in eight chances.
“It was a good ballgame,” Smoak said. “We just had to battle to the end there.”
The Mariners trailed 2-1 when Keuchel started the seventh by walking Smoak, Cole Gillespie and Brad Miller. Reliever Jose Cisnero then tied the score by walking Mike Zunino.
Before the Astros pulled Keuchel, they went into some standard stall tactics which, on this occasion, pushed McClendon over the edge. He barked a protest to home-plate umpire James Hoye — and got ejected.
“I was saying they’re trying to get more time,” McClendon said. “That can be construed as a (second) trip to the mound. I said it’s in the rulebook. And (Hoye) threw me out.”
So McClendon missed Zunino’s walk and everything else. Someone can catch him up over ice cream.
Michael Saunders followed with a two-run double before Stefen Romero and Robinson Cano delivered RBI singles.
The Mariners added three more runs later in the inning against Valdes; Kyle Seager had an RBI double before Smoak crushed a two-run homer. All of that made it 9-2 before the Mariners tried to give it back.
Iwakuma (1-0) had yielded just two runs and four hits through six innings but he gave up a one-out homer to Chris Carter before departing after Marwin Gonzalez’s two-out single.
In came Dominic Leone, who served up a two-run homer to Jonathan Villar. After Jose Altuve walked, Dexter Fowler hit a grounder to deep short that Miller, for some reason, chose to backhand.
There was no chance to get Fowler at first and, when the ball kicked off Miller’s glove for an error, Altuve scored. That quickly, it was 9-6.
Joe Beimel replaced Leone and ended the inning when Fowler was thrown out stealing. Beimel exited after getting the first out in the eighth.
In came Medina, who immediately gave up a double to Matt Dominguez, a two-out triple to Carter and an RBI single to Alex Presley.
The lead was down to one.
Medina then loaded the bases by hitting Gonzalez and walking Villar before Rodney retired Altuve on a fly to short right. Rodney hit the first batter in the ninth but retired the next three.
Ugly or not, the Mariners had their sixth victory in eight games.
Iwakuma delivered an encouraging, and efficient, return after missing the season’s first 27 games while recovering from a strained ligament in his middle finger.
“Overall, I was able to pitch well,” he said through interpreter Antony Suzuki. “I was able command both sides of the plate. That helped a lot with all of my pitches.”
Prior to the seventh, Iwakuma’s only trouble came in the third after Gonzalez led off with an infield single. Villar followed with a RBI triple to center, and Altuve made it 2-0 with a sacrifice fly to deep center.
The Mariners finally broke through in the sixth against Keuchel after Romero sliced a one-out triple to right. Cano followed with an opposite-field RBI single to left.
It was all prelude to a wild finish.