HOUSTON — It should have been a nice comfortable, drama-free Saturday afternoon for the Mariners.
Hisashi Iwakuma gave Seattle a quality outing in his first start of 2014 and his teammates rewarded his return with plenty of run support, scoring eight runs in the seventh inning and nine runs overall.
But nothing is simple for the Mariners, particularly against an Astros team with the worst record in the American League.
A seven-run lead after the top of the seventh turned into a 9-8 stomach-churner of a win for Seattle, and closer Fernando Rodney had to work a rare four-out save to ensure victory.
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“A win is a win,” manager Lloyd McClendon said. “People say you win ugly. Well, I don’t buy that. A win is a win. Playing great and losing, you don’t get the ice cream for that. We get ice cream tonight. We won.”
Will there be anything extra on that ice cream?
“There might be,” McClendon chuckled.
After being ejected in the seventh inning, McClendon didn’t have to watch the ugliness of Yoervis Medina almost frittering away a 9-6 lead in the bottom of the eighth inning, giving up two runs and loading the bases.
With Danny Farquhar unavailable, bench coach Trent Jewett turned to Rodney to clean up Medina’s mess with no margin for error.
Rodney, who has been anything but predictable this season, got the dangerous and diminutive Jose Altuve to fly out to right to end the inning.
“He just attacked the strike zone,” Mike Zunino said. “In a situation like that, he knew he had to go right at the guy and just attacked him.”
In the ninth inning, Rodney hit Dexter Fowler — the first batter he faced — to put the tying run on first. But he came back to strike out Jason Castro and Matt Dominguez and got Marc Krauss to fly out to right to pick up his seventh save of the season.
“We didn’t really have a choice,” McClendon said. “I thought Trent made a great move there.”
For the first six innings, the Mariners were meandering toward yet another loss to the lowly Astros. They were doing nothing against starter Dallas Keuchel, who had held them scoreless through five and allowed just two hits. Their approach irked McClendon.
“We were really Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,” he said. “For the first part of that game, we had (expletive) at-bats to be honest with you. The second part of the game we were a little bit more patient, got the ball up and got the guy in the strike zone.”
Trailing 2-0, the Mariners scraped a run across in the sixth inning. Stefen Romero tripled off the wall in right field and Robinson Cano scored him with a single to left field.
But things got really interesting in the seventh inning.
Keuchel suddenly lost all command of his pitches and the Mariners stopped helping him. He walked Justin Smoak and Cole Gillespie on a combined eight pitches. Brad Miller fell behind 1-2 trying a sacrifice bunt before Keuchel walked him.
With the Astros trying to stall to get a reliever ready to replace Keuchel, McClendon was ejected by home-plate umpire Jim Hoyes. McClendon wasn’t pleased with the stalling tactics and voiced his opinion to Hoyes, who threw him out while he was sitting on the bench.
“I told him that the manager told the catcher to go talk to the pitcher and he’d already been out there once,” McClendon said. “He was obviously trying to get (the reliever) more time there and that could be construed as a trip to the mound. I said it’s in the rulebook.”
Once ejected, McClendon stormed onto the field and let Hoyes know what he thought of the call.
But the delay didn’t help the Astros. Zunino worked a walk against Keuchel’s replacement — Jose Cisneros — to tie the score at 2-2.
It was the first walk that Zunino had worked this season. His only other free pass had been intentional.
“The whole season I’ve had it planned out like that,” he joked. “I was able to stay patient and look for a pitch I could drive. I got one pitch I swung through, and other than that I didn’t.”
Michael Saunders broke it open, doubling to right field to score two runs and make it 4-2. Romero and Cano followed with RBI singles to make it 6- 2. The Astros later went to lefty Raul Valdes. But Kyle Seager scored Cano with a double to right-center and Smoak followed with a two-run homer. Smoak crushed the first pitch he saw from Valdes over the left-field stands and up onto the train tracks that trigger the retractable roof, some 50 feet above the stands.
“I hit it pretty good,” he deadpanned. “I was looking for a fastball there and got it.”
When Gillespie’s deep fly ball to center was finally corralled, the Mariners had hung eight runs on the Astros in the inning.
Up 9-2, Iwakuma lost a little of his rhythm after the long top of the inning. He gave up a solo homer to Chris Carter and then left with two outs in the inning.
Dominic Leone, who had been stellar in his last outing, gave up a two-run homer and a sacrifice fly as the lead was reduced to 9-6.
Medina started the eighth and struggled, giving up two runs with two outs on an RBI triple from Carter and a run-scoring single to Alex Presley. He then hit a batter and walked another to end his day.
Ryan Divish: 206-464-2373
On Twitter: @RyanDivish