By Ryan Divish The News Tribune
HOUSTON — So this Brad Miller kid, he’s kind of good.
The Mariners’ rookie shortstop, who has looked like a rookie only in his baby-faced appearance, came out of the All-Star break much like he went into it — playing like he belongs at the big-league level.
Miller blasted the first two home runs of his career, driving in five runs and collecting another hit to help the Mariners outlast the Houston Astros, 10-7, on Friday at Minute Maid Park.
Since he was called up on June 28, the bright lights of the big league have never seemed too much for Miller.
“It’s his persona,” Mariners manager Eric Wedge said. “It’s why I kept him in camp the whole time, I wanted to see him. He handles everything at the same pace which says a lot when it comes to this game. You talk about the game speeding up — he does a good job keeping it out in front of him.”
On a night filled with plenty of hits, base runners, runs and even a player hitting for the cycle, Miller still managed to stand out.
It started with the very first pitch of the game. Miller scalded a fastball from Astros’ starter Bud Norris into left field for crisp single.
“That felt good after the couple day break, getting up there and swinging it,” he said.
It was a sign of things to come. And it would feel even better later.
With two outs, Mike Zunino on first and the Mariners clinging to a 4-3 lead in the sixth inning, Miller worked a 2-0 count against Norris. He went looking for a fastball, got it and destroyed it, depositing the ball into the right field upper deck for his first big league home run. It traveled an estimated 410 feet.
“I was just looking for anything to hit hard. I didn’t like the first two pitches,” Miller said. “He threw one in there and it felt pretty good, well, it felt really good. It felt pure. And I kind of blacked out there for a little bit.”
The two-run blast gave the Mariners a 6-3 lead.
“He has power, he has considerable power,” Wedge said. “I’m just talking the ball off the bat, the way it jumps. He’s going to be a hitter first, but he’ll hit a few home runs.”
The second home run wasn’t quite as majestic, but well earned.
With the Mariners up 6-3 in the eighth inning, the Astros brought in Josh Fields to pitch in relief. Fields was the Mariners first-round pick in the 2008 draft. After some sub-par years in the minor leagues, he was sent to the Red Sox as part of the Erik Bedard trade. He was acquired by the Astros in the offseason during the first-round of the Rule 5 draft.
Fields walked both Zunino and Ackley to put himself into immediate trouble. Miller worked a 3-2 count and was able to muscle of a fastball over the right field wall and the outstretched glove of Justin Maxwell for a three-run homer.
“I was just trying to stay alive,” Miller said. “It was a 3-2 count and he was throwing me everything and I was just trying to battle. I didn’t see it originally off the bat. And then I saw Maxwell turn. And he’s like 7 feet tall, he’s about to do something. He was sizing up the wall. And I was like ‘just go, just push.’ And luckily it was just out of his reach.”
The three-run homer pushed the lead to 9-3, and the Mariners needed all of those runs.
The Seattle bullpen, which has been anything but stable this season, gave the three runs right back as Danny Farquhar and Oliver Perez couldn’t hold the Astros down.
Farquhar walked Maxwell and then gave up a double to a hustling Brandon Barnes. The double made it a cycle for Barnes, who earlier in the game homered and tripled off Joe Saunders and singled off Yoervis Medina. He was the first Astros player to hit for the cycle since Luke Scott did it on July 28, 2006.
With runners on first and second, Wedge brought in left-hander Oliver Perez to face the lefty-swinging Brett Wallace. Perez has been the Mariners’ best and most consistent reliever this season. But not on this night. He hung a 0-2 slider that Wallace ripped into stands in right-center.
The Astros weren’t finished. Jose Altuve hit a two-out triple to center on a ball that was misjudged by center fielder Dustin Ackley. Perez then walked Jason Castro to put runners on first and third with two outs.
Wedge called on closer Tom Wilhelmsen to get the final out of the eighth inning. That final out was big slugger Chris Carter, who helped knock Wilhelmsen from his closing duties with a big double in a blown save in June.
But Wilhelmsen won this battle, getting Carter to ground into a force out to end the inning.
“I guess I was trying to keep the ball on the outside part of the plate,” Wilhelmsen said. “The fastball particularly. I only showed him one. I had a pretty good feel for the curveball today so he put it down and I threw it.”
In the top of the ninth, Justin Smoak hit a solo home run — his ninth of the season -that provided the Mariners with a key insurance run. Wilhelmsen gave up a two-out single to Barnes — his fifth of the night — and he later scored on a Matt Dominguez’s single to left. But Wilhelmsen got Wallace to ground out to first to end the game, and notch his 20th save.
Joe Saunders (9-8) got the win, pitching 51⁄3 innings, giving up three runs on nine hits with three walks and six strikeouts.