HOUSTON -- The Astros again got a glimpse of their ace Dallas Keuchel returning to his Cy Young form, and they backed him up by swinging for the fences.
Houston cranked three home runs to drive ailing Seattle starter Taijuan Walker from the game early, and Keuchel was in fine form as the Astros took the series with a 5-2 win on Tuesday night in Minute Maid Park.
Keuchel finished his night with six innings of two-run ball, striking out six and scattering five hits, the biggest of them Nelson Cruz's solo home run in the fourth inning.
"I had a good slider, and that was able to get me through the first couple innings and then I kind of got in a groove," Keuchel said. "That's a quality team over there, and it's nice to finish [the outing] on a good note."
Colby Rasmus launched a go-ahead, two-run homer well beyond the Astros' bullpen in the fourth inning, and fellow left-hander A.J. Reed followed moments later with his own two-run jack.
"Obviously, the two home runs are big," Houston manager A.J. Hinch said. "This lineup's got a ton of power and we've had decent success against Walker, getting pitches up and driving them for extra-base hits. When our lefties get going a little bit, it can be a really potent lineup."
Walker exited the game after the fourth with discomfort in his right foot as he continues dealing with tendinitis in his arch. Luis Valbuena hit a massive 424-foot home run off the right-hander in the second.Luis Valbuena hit a massive 424-foot home run off the right-hander in the second.
"Taijuan obviously still isn't quite right with that foot," said Mariners manager Scott Servais. "We're going to have to have that looked at again. He's struggling. He's trying to pitch through it, but we probably have to re-evaluate where we're at here and have it looked at it again."
The Astros (45-39) now lead the season series against Seattle, 5-4, and sit just a half-game back of Boston for the second Wild Card spot in the American League. Seattle fell to 43-41, three games back of the Red Sox.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Fear the beard: On a night when the All-Star teams were announced, Keuchel's absence from the American League squad was notable. This outing was the latest encouraging sign for the Astros' ostensible ace, though. He finagled out of a couple jams, including in his sixth and final frame, never succumbing to the big innings that have doomed him at times this season. Keuchel posted his fourth straight quality start and mostly saved a bullpen that manager A.J. Hinch referred to as "taxed" before the game.
"Dallas did a great job today, and it was good to see him battle through it," Hinch said. "They nicked him for a run early and then they had the home run on a decent pitch to Cruz. To see him get through the trouble in the sixth and hand the ball to our ballpen was [key]."
Another Cruz crush: The Mariners designated hitter didn't get selected to the AL All-Star squad, but Cruz reminded folks that he certainly belonged in the conversation by blasting his 22nd homer of the year with a solo shot to left-center in the third inning off Keuchel. The 36-year-old launched a 2-2 slider off the wall below the train tracks at Minute Maid, a shot projected at 406 feet by Statcast™. He's now tied for third in the AL in home runs and.fifth in RBIs with 57 while batting .281.
"It's disappointing," Servais said of Cruz being left off the All-Star selections. "I did talk to him. I think he's certainly deserving of it. He's carried our team for a number of stretches in the first half. I really appreciate his work ethic and how he goes about his business because he does play on days he doesn't feel 100 percent and we appreciate that."
All-Star Harris comes through: Will Harris got word from Hinch within 90 minutes of first pitch that he had earned his first All-Star nod. The reliever went out hours later and shut the Mariners down for his ninth save. Harris allowed one hit in a scoreless ninth inning to drop his ERA to 0.72. A little more than a year after the Astros claimed him off waivers, Harris has become the toast of his clubhouse and a bear to handle for hitters across baseball. More >
"It may have put a damper on things if I'd have blown it," Harris quipped. "It was good to go out there and get three outs, especially after the way Keuchel pitched today. I was honored to save this win and hope we can all continue playing good baseball."
Montgomery fills in well: Walker gave up five runs on five hits -- including the three home runs -- in four innings due a flareup of the tendinitis issue in his right arch that has made it hard for him to push off the rubber over his last four starts. But lefty reliever Mike Montgomery stemmed the tide by shutting out the Astros over the next four innings on two hits, wrapping up his longest appearance of the season with a nice 5-4-3 double play on a Luis Valbuena hopper to Kyle Seager as he lowered his ERA to 2.15.
"Mike threw the ball really well," Servais said. "I was happy to see that. He was running out of gas. It was really hot in here tonight. The air conditioning went out for awhile and it was 97 outside, 89 degrees inside. But he hung in there. His stuff was good, he used all his pitches and was very efficient."
"He's one of those guys who comes out and does something new every night. Either he's making a diving catch, hitting a home run or stealing a bag. He's literally 'Mr. Everything' for us." -- Keuchel making George Springer's case for the Esurance MLB All-Star Game Final Vote
"Keuchel threw the ball well. We had a few chances. The home run ball got us tonight. It's not like they murdered the ball, they just hit more homers than we did and in big spots. Those two that inning, obviously that hurt." -- Servais
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Montgomery became the first Mariners reliever to throw four scoreless innings of relief since Tom Wilhelmsen on July 18, 2014 against the Angels. The last Seattle lefty to do it was Cesar Jimenez on July 6, 2008 against the Tigers.
The crew chief called for an official review on Reed's two-run homer, overturning a call of no fan interference after a two-minute, five-second review, but still ruling it a home run. The ball appeared to hit right on the edge of the vertical home-run line along the wall in left-center field after a fan touched it, but the umpire ruled that the ball still would have landed outside the field of play.
WHAT'S NEXT Mariners: Veteran left-hander Wade LeBlanc (1-0, 1.50 ERA) makes his third start since being acquired via trade from the Blue Jays in Wednesday's 5:10 p.m. PT series finale at Minute Maid Park. LeBlanc, who pitched in Japan last year, won his first MLB game since 2014 with six innings of two-run ball against the Orioles in his last outing.
Astros: Houston hands the ball to right-hander Mike Fiers at 7:10 p.m. CT for the final game of this home series against Seattle. Fiers has thrown two shutouts in his last three starts, and the Astros have won five of his last six outings.