Cano strikes in 9th, keeps Mariners rolling in Houston
By Brian McTaggart and Greg Johns
HOUSTON -- Robinson Cano snapped a ninth-inning tie with a three-run double over the head of center fielder Carlos Gomez to send the Mariners to their fourth consecutive win, 6-3, over the Astros in Thursday night's series opener at Minute Maid Park.
"I was ready," Cano said after capping a four-RBI night with his game-winner off Luke Gregerson. "That's a situation where I would say if I was a pitcher, I don't want to face Nelson [Cruz] or myself. In that situation as a hitter, you've got to get ready to see a pitch over the plate, because he's nasty. Everything moves."
Seth Smith shot a two-run single into right field to score Ketel Marte and Leonys Martin in the seventh inning to give the Mariners a 3-2 lead, but the Astros tied the game in the bottom of the frame on an RBI double to straightaway center by Jose Altuve (4-for-4). Houston had the potential go-ahead run cut down at the plate on the play when Jason Castro tried to score from first.
"It's frustrating we lose the game, and that certainly was a critical moment," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. "Jose Altuve's amazing. He came up big in a big spot again, and to hit a ball 430-plus feet for whatever it was is becoming no surprise. I wish the fence would have been at the 429-mark."
Mariners starter Wade Miley held the Astros -- who scored 16 runs on Wednesday against the Twins -- to two runs and five hits in six innings. Altuve led off the game with a homer -- the first of his career-high-tying four hits -- and Evan Gattis' RBI single in the sixth put Houston ahead, 2-1.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Rally un-sprung: The Mariners looked like they had some serious two-out momentum in the third against rookie right-hander Chris Devenski when Norichika Aoki singled, Smith walked and Cano drove in his AL-leading 27th run with a single to right. But Astros right fielder George Springer put a halt to that with an excellent catch of a rocket off the bat of Cruz, reaching up at the last second to snare what looked like a sure double after running the line drive down in the gap.
"What a play that was," said Mariners manager Scott Servais. "I thought that was a two-run double there myself. They are very athletic in the outfield, and we've got some athletic guys as well."
Leadoff homer just the start: Altuve walloped his sixth leadoff homer of the season and proceeded to tie a career high with four hits. He singled in the third, singled and scored in the sixth and tied the game with his RBI double in the seventh, which traveled about 425 feet in the air to straightaway center field.
"I feel good," said Altuve, whose 23 extra-base hits is a franchise record through 29 games. "I feel like I want to go out there and get on base like I always do. I'm not trying to hit homers or long balls. I want to get on base for George, Carlos [Correa] and the guys behind me." More >
Good timing for Smith: The Mariners' right fielder got off to a great start in April, but he was riding an 0-for-12 slump when he laced his bases-loaded single off Tony Sipp in the seventh to give Seattle a 3-2 lead. Smith has been used almost exclusively in a platoon in right field, but Servais left him in against the lefty Sipp, and it was his first hit in six at-bats against southpaws this season.
"I've faced him before, but I don't face him enough to know what's coming or what he's trying to do really," Smith said. "You just try to get a ball over the plate. Get an offensive count, which I did, and then I let it slip away. Then I was able to get just enough to squeeze it through the four hole."
"For me, he's the best second baseman in the league and top five hitter in baseball. You always have to be aware when he's hitting." -- Altuve, on Cano
"The goal was to keep him to singles, but the first one got away. I made a bad pitch. He hit it pretty far. But after that I was kind of pleased with just keeping him on first base. He's really good, he's really hot right now. He's good regardless, but he's seeing the ball well. Other than that I felt pretty good." -- Miley, on facing Altuve
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
The Mariners have won six straight series for the first time since 2011, but they'll need to win three of four in this set to extend that string. The last time Seattle won more than six straight? That would be 2001, when it rolled to 14 consecutive series wins during its 116-win season.
Hinch unsuccessfully challenged a call at the plate in the seventh inning in which Castro was ruled out. After viewing replays, the umpires confirmed the call and determined there was no violation of the home-plate collision rule. In the ninth, Hinch asked for a crew chief review of a Leonys Martin stolen base at second, but the call on the field was confirmed.
WHAT'S NEXT Mariners:Taijuan Walker faces a familiar foe in Friday's second game of the series at Minute Maid Park at 5:10 p.m. PT. Out of 43 Major League starts, this will be the 10th against Houston for the 23-year-old, and he's gone 5-1 with a 3.96 ERA.
Astros:Doug Fister will face his former team in Friday's 7:10 p.m. CT game against the Mariners at Minute Maid Park. Fister has back-to-back quality starts under his belt, including one in Seattle on April 25 in which he allowed three runs and four hits in six innings.