By Andrew Erickson and Brian McTaggart
SEATTLE -- Astros center fielder Carlos Gomez, in the starting lineup for the first time in more than two weeks because of a pesky rib-cage muscle injury, caught a line drive off the bat of Franklin Gutierrez in the ninth inning and fired a laser to first to double up the runner for a dramatic ending to a wild game.
While Gomez lay on the ground in disbelief, his teammates joyously spilled onto the field to celebrate a resilient 7-6 win over the Mariners on Wednesday night at Safeco Field that vaulted the Astros back into the second spot in the American League Wild Card race.
"It's an unbelievable throw," Gomez said. "Release the ball quick. The first thing going through my mind is yes, yes. I get up, talk to my outfielders and be excited, come to the clubhouse, do my thing."
With the win, the Astros jumped ahead of the Angels and back into the second Wild Card spot. They lead the Angels by a half-game with three games remaining. The Angels have four games left, all against the Rangers, whose magic number to clinch the division is two. The Twins are 1 1/2 games back of the Astros in the Wild Card race and also have four games remaining.
"This is back-to-back series wins for us and a win on the road obviously feels good right before the off-day," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. "We put a lot of pressure on the people in front of us, we obviously put some pressure on the teams that are chasing us as well. I love the response of this team. It was a weird game and a little bit of a tense game, but going into the off-day couldn't have had a bigger win."
The Astros got homers from Luis Valbuena and Chris Carter and used five relief pitchers to overcome a rough outing by starter Scott Kazmir and outlast the Mariners. Houston committed a season-high four errors.
"That was an exciting win, maybe a little bit of an ugly one, but very productive," Hinch said. "We needed a lot of things to go our way."
The Astros scored three times in the fifth to take a 3-2 lead, but the Mariners got back-to-back homers by Kyle Seager -- a three-run shot -- and Nelson Cruz in the bottom of the inning off struggling Kazmir to give Seattle a 6-3 lead.
Red-hot Carter then launched a three-run homer in the sixth to tie the game, and the Astros pulled ahead, 7-6, in the seventh when Colby Rasmus' bloop hit scored pinch-runner Jonathan Villar. He ran for Evan Gattis, who tripled with one out.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Carter rescues Astros again: The slugger continued his late-season resurgence. It was Carter's seventh home run in his last 17 games, including his sixth homer in his last seven starts. And it was his biggest of the season yet. More >
"Obviously, for him to come up and hit another big home run against a right-handed pitcher, obviously we felt a lot better after it," Hinch said.
Tripling down: Gattis, who isn't particularly fast and doesn't have any stolen bases, hit his club-high 11th triple of the season in the seventh inning when he sent a laser over the head of right-fielder Brad Miller, who fell down. Villar ran for Gattis and scored the go-ahead run on Rasmus' bloop hit. Gattis is the first player since Pittsburgh's Dale Long in 1955 to have at least 11 triples and no steals. More >
"Weird," he said. "For me, that's what it's been like, weird."
Sucre swings it: The Mariners have gotten little offensive production from their catchers this season, Jesus Sucre included. The 27-year-old had just 14 hits in 48 games entering Wednesday but raised his batting average 23 points in three at-bats in the series finale. Sucre singled in the second, fifth and sixth innings for his first three-hit night in 78 Major League games. More >
Fifth-inning frenzy: Kazmir held the Mariners hitless during the third and fourth innings, but that quickly changed in the fifth. After Shawn O'Malley grounded to second for the first out of the inning, the Mariners strung together five straight hits to knock Kazmir out of the ballgame. Seager's career-high 26th home run followed by Cruz's 44th homer marked the 10th time the Mariners have hit back-to-back home runs this season.
"I think he had his timing back a little bit better today. Listen, he hit with the quad [injury], I don't think that was the reason his timing was off," said Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon of Cruz, who had struck out nine times in the three games leading up to Wednesday. "He just got out of whack a little bit and the big guys, they do that. But I know his home runs come in bunches and hopefully he'll get on a run these next three days."
"It's just a bad read. The one thing I won't do is make excuses for players. He should've gotten back. It's an easy read, he just went too far." -- McClendon, on James Jones being doubled off by Gomez to end the game
UPON FURTHER REVIEW
With no outs in the fifth inning and Carter on first, Jason Castro singled off the glove of Mariners center fielder O'Malley. Carter slid into third ahead of left fielder Franklin Gutierrez's throw and was called safe by third-base umpire Paul Emmel. McClendon challenged the call, which was overturned for the first out of the inning after replay showed Carter came off the base. In the fifth, Hinch challenged a home run by Nelson Cruz, but the call was confirmed quickly.
WHAT'S NEXT Astros: The Astros are off Thursday before opening a three-game series against the D-backs at 8:40 p.m. CT on Friday at Chase Field. Dallas Keuchel is trying to become the eighth pitcher in club history to win 20 games in a season. He's 4-8 with a 3.82 ERA in 14 road starts, and the Astros are 6-8 in those outings.
Mariners: Following a Thursday off-day, the Mariners open up their final three-game series of the season against the A's on Friday at 7:10 p.m. PT at Safeco Field. Hisashi Iwakuma (9-5, 3.67 ERA) looks for his third straight season of 10 or more wins. He is 4-4 with a 4.71 ERA at home this season.