By Ryan Divish The News Tribune
HOUSTON – There was nothing odd about the Seattle Mariners win on Sunday. They weren’t being no-hit. There were no extenuating circumstances for their runs.
It was just a normal straight-to-the-point beat down of the Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park.
A night after winning despite getting only one hit in the game, the Mariners banged out 13 hits, drew five walks and Nick Franklin crushed his first career grand slam en route to a 12-5 rout of the Astros.
The victory extended the Mariners’ win streak to a season-high six games. It also clinched back-to-back series sweeps for Seattle. The last time the Mariners swept an opponent on the road was on May 18-20, 2012 at Colorado.
It was the third time the Mariners (46-52) have scored 10 runs or more in July. And even with Saturday’s one-hit hiccup, Seattle’s offense is rolling.
That’s not a typo. The Mariners are hitting and hitting well. In 16 games in July, they’ve scored 102 runs — the most in major league baseball. That’s 6.3 runs per game. It’s almost enough to forget about the anemia of the past.
“This is about as good a stretch as we’ve had since I’ve been here in 2011,” said Dustin Ackley, who had three hits in the game. “This is a great feeling. It’s not like we’re doing it here or there. We’ve been doing it every day for the last couple weeks, so that’s definitely an exciting thing.”
Sunday’s game was basically over soon after it started.
There was no threat of being no-hit. The Mariners exploded for seven runs in the second inning off Astros starter Jordan Lyles.
“It was definitely a great bounce back from yesterday and only having the one hit,” Franklin said.
His one hit in the second inning accounted for plenty of damage. The Mariners were already up 3-0, thanks to RBI singles from Ackley and Brad Miller and a bases loaded hit by pitch from Henry Blanco.
Franklin made it 7-0 with one swing.
With a 1-1 count, he sat on a 92 mph fastball from Lyles and ripped it into the right field stands to clear the bases.
“I was just looking for a pitch to drive and try to get a run in and get a sac fly,” Franklin said. “He just happened to leave it over the plate and I connected on it.”
It was Franklin’s seventh homer of the season and the Mariners’ fifth grand slam of the season. Franklin has shown some power despite his slender 180-pound frame.
“They always say I’m like wiry strong,” he said. “I definitely put the work in in the weight room, though obviously it doesn’t look like it. Other than that, I just try to square the ball up as much as I can. If it goes out, it goes out.”
Franklin’s slam gave Mariners’ starter Felix Hernandez a 7-0 lead to work with.
A 7-0 lead for King Felix? What could possibly go wrong?
Well, there was that start on June 20 in Anaheim when the Mariners handed Hernandez a 7-0 lead in the third inning against the Los Angeles Angels and the Mariners ace couldn’t hold it. He gave up seven runs on 12 hits and took a no decision in an eventual loss.
“I didn’t think about that at all,” Mariners manager Eric Wedge deadpanned. “Yeah, I’m sure it was in the back of everyone’s mind, but he was a different animal today. He’s one of those guys, it might happen once, but it’s not going to happen again.”
Hernandez had no such recollection.
“No, that never came to my mind,” he said. “Every time you go out there, it’s 1-0.”
There would be no deja vu on Sunday. Hernandez didn’t let it happen. He pitched six shutout innings, giving up four hits and striking out seven while walking one. He lowered his American League leading earned run average to 2.43 with the outing.
Of course, it helps that the Astros don’t have Mike Trout, Mark Trumbo, Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton in their lineup. Besides, the Mariners had pushed the lead to 10-0 in the fifth inning.
“It’s fun to pitch like that,” Hernandez said of the run support. “Like I said the last few weeks, we’ve been scoring a lot of runs, we’ve just got to continue to do that and we’re going to win a lot of games.”
Seattle tacked on two more runs on a Miller RBI single in the seventh and a laser of a line-drive RBI double from Michael Saunders in the eighth.
The Mariners’ bullpen couldn’t keep the game a shutout. Hector Noesi allowed a run the seventh. After Lucas Luetge tossed a flawless eighth, Bobby LaFromboise couldn’t shut the door in the ninth, giving up three straight hits, a run and a walk before registering an out. He was lifted for Danny Farquhar, who gave up a sacrifice fly for another run to make it 12-3. The game should have been over when Farquhar struck out Jason Castro swinging. But the ball got by Henry Blanco, who then fired wildly to first to allow another run to score. Farquhar walked Chris Carter to continue the inning. But he finally ended the ninth-inning circus, getting Carlos Corporan to pop out to end the game.