By Brian McTaggart and Andrew Erickson
SEATTLE -- Shawn O'Malley's two-out, two-run single off reliever Pat Neshek in the eighth inning broke a tie and lifted the Mariners to a 6-4 win over the Astros on Tuesday night at Safeco Field, dropping Houston out of the second Wild Card spot in the American League.
The Astros, who fell to 10-16 in September, are one-half game behind the red-hot Angels, who have won seven in a row. The Astros' AL West chances are slipping away. They trail the first-place Rangers by 2 1/2 games with four remaining.
"Right now, we just have to worry about us," said reliever Oliver Perez, who suffered the loss. "The goal for us is to be ready every day to compete with the other team. We have four more games and we have to do well."
It's the first time since April 18 that the Astros haven't been in a postseason position.
"We've got to play the whole schedule," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. "I've said that time and time again. It definitely is true today. We could be a half-game up, half-game back. We've got to play the whole schedule to make it work."
Robinson Cano socked a two-run home run off Astros starter Mike Fiers in the sixth inning to tie the game. Fiers gave up four runs (three earned) and five hits in 5 2/3 innings. He had retired 12 in a row before Kyle Seager singled with one out in the sixth and scored one out later on Cano's 20th homer.
"You've got to find a way to close out innings," Hinch said. "We gave a couple of extra 90 feet away tonight, too. Not just about the back end of the game. The beginning of the game, they scored their first two runs and we gave 90 feet away [on Marwin Gonzalez's throwing error in left field]. They got an extra sac fly for free, basically. There's a lot that goes into it."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Neshek's struggles continue: It's been a rough final month of the season for Astros reliever Neshek, who gave up one run and two hits in the eighth inning. Neshek is 0-3 with an 8.53 ERA and two blown saves in September. In 6 1/3 innings, he's given up eight runs (six earned) and 13 hits.
"I've never really had anything like this before," he said. "Pitching's all about confidence and riding the wave. Hopefully, you always tell yourself, 'Hey, this next start, I'm going to go up there and throw up a scoreless inning and see where it takes me.' And I'm hoping for it one of these days. More >
Sac attack: Prior to Tuesday's game, the Mariners had been outscored, 99-89, in first innings. The Astros added No. 100 on a Carlos Correa fielder's choice with no outs in the first, but the Mariners struck back in their own half of the inning. Back-to-back hits by Ketel Marte and Seager and a throwing error by Gonzalez set up back-to-back sacrifice flies from Nelson Cruz and Cano to give Seattle a 2-1 lead.
Cano crushes No. 20: September has not been lacking its Cano milestones. A week after notching career hit No. 2,000 against the Royals, the Mariners' second baseman cranked a sixth-inning first-pitch fastball from Fiers 410 feet to right-center field for his 20th home run of the season. With the two-run shot, Cano became just the eighth second baseman and the 15th middle infielder in Major League history to hit 20 or more home runs in six or more seasons.
"Not a surprise to me," said Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon. "I said all along that Robbie would hit to the back of his bubblegum card, and he's not done yet. Who knows? Maybe he'll get to 80, 85 RBIs."
Astros third baseman Jed Lowrie left the game in the fifth inning with soreness in his left quad. More >
"They just came out swinging like no other team, so I was just trying to figure out what to do. … [I] was just falling behind in the count to two hitters, and luckily I made good pitches at the end." -- Mariners starter Vidal Nuno, on allowing just one run in the first after allowing hits to Houston's first two hitters.
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
Cano has 18 home runs in his last 85 games after hitting just two home runs in his first 67 games.
WHAT'S NEXT Astros:Scott Kazmir looks to end a difficult September on a high note Wednesday when he faces the Mariners at 9:10 p.m. CT at Safeco Field. The Astros are 1-4 in Kazmir's last five starts, just one of which was a quality start. Kazmir has not won since Aug. 22 but did turn in one of his best starts of the season against the Mariners on July 2 while with the A's, allowing just two hits over eight scoreless innings.
Mariners: With left-hander James Paxton likely done for the season with a fingernail injury, the Mariners' bullpen will carry the load for the entirety of Wednesday's series finale against the Astros at 7:10 p.m. PT at Safeco Field. McClendon has not yet announced which of his relievers will start.