SEATTLE -- While the Astros are awaiting the debut of Justin Verlander in their rotation, they got a pretty good reminder of what their other former American League Cy Young Award winner could do, as Dallas Keuchel hurled Houston to a 6-2 win over the Mariners Monday in a Labor Day showdown at Safeco Field.
Alex Bregman and Josh Reddick broke open a 2-2 tie with two-run hits in the seventh as the Astros won their fifth straight, maintaining their three-game lead over the red-hot Indians for the best record in the AL at 84-53.
"I was able to get some early contact, [made] a few mistake pitches I'd like to have back, but overall just a continuation," Keuchel said. "The last starts, I kind of lost my cool a little bit, and that's what led to a lot of runs. And I told myself not to do that ever again and let the guys rely on me to get it going. Everything is a lot more fun and more loose, like we were playing earlier this year."
A vintage Keuchel record 14 ground-ball outs before Astros manager A.J. Hinch pulled him with two outs in the eight following his 108 pitch.
"I thought he was really good," Hinch said. "His ability to get the ball on the ground was incredible, and even a couple of the hits early he gave up the first run on were ground balls. That's vintage Dallas when he's good -- he's throwing strikes, he's down in the zone, he challenges them with balls having to be put in play on the ground."
Keuchel improved to 12-3 with a 2.88 ERA as he threw 7 2/3 innings of two-run ball with seven hits. It was the fifth time this year an Astros starter pitched into the eighth inning, four of which are by Keuchel. The last was Mike Fiers on June 10.
"Give credit to Keuchel," said Mariners manager Scott Servais. "He was really good today. I think it was 13 or 14 outs on the ground, and the double-play balls certainly squashed a couple rallies we thought we'd got going. He's an accomplished left-handed starter with a good sinker, and he got it done against us today."
Kyle Seager went 2-for-4 with a home run and two RBIs, but the Mariners saw their three-game win streak snapped as they dropped back to .500 at 69-69. Seattle is 2 1/2 games back of Minnesota for the second AL Wild Card spot, after the Twins fell to the Rays on Monday night.
Erasmo Ramirez continued his strong run for the Mariners with his fifth straight quality start, allowing two runs on four hits over six innings to put his ERA at 2.40 in that span.
But the Mariners bullpen, a strength much of the year, couldn't hold on as Nick Vincent saw a string of 30 straight scoreless appearances at Safeco this season snapped when he gave up a double to Bregman and single to Reddick -- both with the bases loaded -- after lefty specialist Marc Rzepczynski opened the seventh by allowing a base hit to Marwin Gonzalez and walking Brian McCann.
"Those guys have been so good all year," Seager said of the Mariners' two setup men. "Those are the guys you want pitching in that situation. We'd take those matchups again tomorrow if that situation arises. Stuff like that happens. They're a good offensive team and they got a few hits to drop there."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Power it up: The Astros, the top-scoring team in the Majors, couldn't get anything going against Ramirez until the fifth, when they got on the board with solo shots by Yuli Gurriel and McCann. Gurriel, playing his first game since Wednesday due to a sore knee, ripped a 1-1 slider over the left-field fence for his 16th homer of the year, a 400-foot shot, per Statcast™. One out later, McCann followed with his 14th blast of the year, a 385-footer to right on a 2-2 changeup.
"It makes it that much better when you have guys like Correa hitting fourth and a guy like Yuli hitting sixth, who was hitting four or five for us [while Correa was injured]," Reddick said.
Seager solves him: Keuchel came into the game holding left-handed hitters to a .148 average and two home runs in 93 plate appearances, but Seager singled in a run in the first and then tied the game at 2 in the sixth with his 20th homer of the season. The home run came on a 1-0 fastball and measured at 407 feet. Seager became the fourth Mariners player with 20-plus homers, joining Nelson Cruz, Robinson Cano and Mike Zunino. It's the 10th time in franchise history the Mariners have had four players with 20-plus homers.
"For whatever reason, Kyle has had pretty good at-bats against Keuchel through the years, and he put good swings on him today," Servais said. "Really good to see. Seags being aggressive and attacking the fastball is a good sign."
"One-hundred percent. Everybody and their dog can see that." -- Keuchel, when asked whether there has been an uptick in spirits in the clubhouse the last few days (following the Verlander trade)
"I try to pitch like he does, working the corners. He did it better than me. I made two mistakes. Those are things you have to learn from." -- Ramirez, on dueling Keuchel to a draw for six innings
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
Seager now has six consecutive seasons with 20-plus homers, just the third Mariners player to achieve that feat, along with Jay Buhner (seven times from 1991-97) and Edgar Martinez (seven times from 1995-2001). He also joined Martinez (7) and Ken Griffey Jr. (5) as the only players with 30 doubles and 20 home runs in five seasons with Seattle.
WHAT'S NEXT Astros: Verlander (10-8, 3.82 ERA), acquired late Thursday in a trade with the Tigers, makes his Astros debut against the Mariners at 9:10 p.m. CT Tuesday at Safeco Field. The 2011 AL Cy Young Award winner and Most Valuable Player is 5-3 with a 2.31 ERA in his last 11 starts.
Mariners:Ariel Miranda (8-6, 4.85 ERA) starts Tuesday's 7:10 p.m. PT game as he looks to get back on track after going just 1-2 with a 6.84 ERA over his last 10 games. The lefty has faced Houston four times this season with no luck (0-2, 5.70 ERA).