By Ryan Divish
The Seattle Times
HOUSTON — If Seattle Mariners manager Scott Servais is true to his word, then you can probably pencil in the M’s lineup for Friday’s game against the Astros.
Well, in an effort to shake things up and find some offense, Servais switched up his relatively standard batting order significantly for Thursday’s series opener in Houston. He moved Dee Gordon to the No. 9 spot and Mitch Haniger to the leadoff spot.
Trying to deflect some of the attention away from the change, Servais tried to downplay it pregame.
“I don’t know if this is permanent, but if we score eight runs it may be permanent,” Servais said. “I really wouldn’t look at it that way. It’s just a chance to mix it up. We’ve all been around teams and they can go into a funk for a little while, and we’ve been in one for quite some time, so why not?”
Well, Skip, that’s exactly what happened.
Facing Justin Verlander for the first time this season, the Mariners rocked the All-Star right-hander for six runs in two innings, and then rolled to an unexpected 8-6 victory over the American League West leaders.
Even if Servais doesn’t go with the exact same order, it’s safe to say Haniger will be staying at the leadoff spot.
In his first game as a leadoff hitter at the big league level, Haniger had four hits in five at-bats. It included smashing a leadoff homer to deep left-center in the first start of the game. The last Mariners leadoff hitter to start the game with a homer was Nori Aoki back in 2016 vs. the Royals. There were also a pair of doubles, two runs scored and two runs batted in.
The Haniger solo homer triggered a three-run first inning. Denard Span followed with a triple and scored on Jean Segura’s double over the wall in right field. Nelson Cruz plated Segura with a crisp single to center.
The Mariners had hit for the cycle in descending order to start the game. The last time that happened in a game was by the Kansas City Royals on Sept. 25, 2016, vs. the White Sox.
With two outs in the second, the trio of Haniger, Span and Segura got to Verlander again. Haniger smoked a double off the wall in left-center and advanced to third on a balk call that miffed Verlander and eventually got him ejected after the inning was over.
The extra base didn’t matter much since Segura sent a ball into the Crawford Boxes for his ninth homer of the season and a 5-0 lead. Span made it back-to-back homers and a 6-0 Seattle lead, crushing a ball over the wall in right field for his ninth homer of the season.
The Mariners pushed the lead to 8-2 in the top of the sixth. The duo of Haniger and Span continuing their big night. Haniger singled to center to score a run and Span added a sacrifice fly to right field for his third RBI of the night.
The run support was needed for Seattle’s pitchers even though they were facing a lineup that was missing George Springer, Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa.
Starter James Paxton, who has been dominant against the Astros for the last two seasons, wasn’t quite as crisp.
He gave up a two-run single in the third inning and then another two runs in the sixth inning. Those two runs could have been avoided, but a phantom foul ball call and then a missed strike down the middle cost in at-bat against Tyler White that should’ve been a strikeout and ended up being a walk cost Paxton 12 extra pitches and two runs in the frame.
With two outs and the bases loaded, light-hitting Tony Kemp blooped a single into right field to score. It ended Paxton’s night and he stalked off the mound furious. Reliever Nick Vincent ended the drama in the frame by striking out Alex Bregman for the final out. Paxton still got the win, improving 10-5 on the season.
Handed an 8-5 lead in the ninth, Edwin Diaz gave up solo homer with two outs, but notched his 43rd save of the season.