By Bob Dutton The News Tribune
HOUSTON — Slight script change. On Sunday, the Seattle Mariners jumped out to an early lead over Houston. A five-run lead, in fact. And by the end, much like what happened Saturday, they were holding on at the end.
But, also like Saturday, they did hold on — and exited Minute Maid Park with an 8-7 victory over the Astros when Danny Farquhar secured a six-out save by striking out Matt Dominguez with the tying run on base.
“Heck, yeah, there was absolutely a ‘yes!’ factor,” Farquhar said. “We’ve been playing some crazy games with these guys. So to get that last one and take the series, finish on a strikeout when I threw it over his head. …
“I got lucky. He swung. It was definitely a ‘yes!’ factor.”
Man, it shouldn’t have been this tough … should it? Still, the Mariners won two of three in the series and are now 4-1 on a road trip that now concludes with four games in Oakland.
They have also won seven of nine.
The Mariners broke open a 1-1 game by scoring four times in the third inning. Willie Bloomquist keyed the rally with a two-run double.
John Buck contributed two doubles and an RBI single to a 12-hit attack. Robinson Cano drove in two runs. Michael Saunders and Corey Hart each had two hits.
“A lot of good at-bats,” Bloomquist said. “Hitting is contagious. I don’t care what anybody says. Once a couple of guys start putting together some good at-bats, it helps everyone.”
The Mariners, in fact, presented starter Brandon Maurer (1-0), with leads of 1-0, 6-1 and 7-3 and he still barely made it through five innings with the lead. For all that, Maurer stranded two runners in the fifth with no outs.
“I just had to dig down and get what I had left and throw it out there,” he said. “I felt real good coming back into the dugout after that one.”
Tom Wilhelmsen inherited a 7-4 lead to start the sixth and retired six in a row over two innings, including a catch on a Dexter Fowler liner back to the mound to end the seventh.
It was 8-4 when Charlie Furbush replaced Wilhelmsen to start the eighth, but a single and a double to the start the inning brought Farquhar into the game.
The Mariners rode Farquhar to the end because Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon didn’t want to use his usual closer, Fernando Rodney, after a four-out save Saturday when the Astros nearly erased a seven-run deficit.
Farquhar knew that in advance.
“I was prepared (to go two innings),” he said, “which was nice. It’s always nice when you’re going to pitch so you can do your routine and get ready.”
Even so, Marc Krauss delivered a two-run pinch single on Farquhar’s first pitch that made it 8-6. Farquhar then retired the next three hitters as a prelude to renewed tension in the ninth.
The Astros closed to within one run when Jose Altuve punched a one-out double to left and scored on Jason Castro’s two-out single before Farquhar struck out Dominguez.
Houston starter Collin McHugh, 2-1, had only allowed one earned run in 151⁄3 innings in his two previous starts, including 62⁄3 scoreless innings on April 22 in a 5-2 victory over the Mariners at Safeco Field.
So maybe this was a regression to the mean.
The Mariners, this time, cuffed McHugh for six runs and eight hits in four innings. One run was unearned, but his ERA jumped from 0.59 to 2.79.
“He has some stuff that makes you want to swing out of the zone,” Bloomquist said. “It looks good coming in there, but then it bounces on the plate or (darts) outside.”
The Mariners were able to lay off those pitches, particularly in a four-run third inning. Bloomquist broke a 1-1 with a two-run double; Cano followed with a triple and scored on Hart’s RBI single to center.
That made it 5-1, and the Mariners added another run in the fourth on Saunders’ RBI single after a double by Buck.
“What you saw today,” Astros manager Bo Porter said, “was a Seattle Mariners team making an adjustment from the last time they faced (McHugh).”
The Astros clawed to within 6-3 on Chris Carter’s two-run double in the bottom of the inning before the clubs traded runs in the fifth.
It was a decisive fifth because Houston got a leadoff homer from Jonathan Villar before Altuve walked and Fowler singled. But Maurer retired the next three hitters.
“It was a battle,” McClendon said, “but I saw something in the kid that I liked. I saw some fortitude, some guts. He went at it. He didn’t have much left, and he fought through that fifth inning.
“It was a big inning in a lot of ways for him from a mental standpoint. I think he learned a lot today. I think, maybe, he grew up a little bit today.”