Robinson Cano smashed the game-deciding three-run homer — his first home run since returning from that suspension for a violating Major League Baseball’s drug policy — in the eighth to lead the Mariners to a stunning 7-4 victory over the Astros.
That swing — the balance, the drive with the legs, the bat through the zone and the unmistakable sound it produces — had been absent for 80 games and was missed by the Mariners.
The results from that swing — specifically, the three-run homer to break a tie game against American League West rival Houston on Monday — also were missed, especially since July 1 when the Mariners’ offense faded into regression and their record followed along.
Yes, Robinson Cano’s absence was of his own doing, something he’s admitted on multiple occasions. But he’s back now and he provided a stunning reminder of how important he could be to this team in the final 36 games of the season as they look to go where they haven’t since 2001.
Cano smashed the game-deciding three-run homer — his first home run since returning from that suspension for a violating Major League Baseball’s drug policy — in the eighth inning to lead the Mariners to a stunning 7-4 victory over the Astros. The Mariners are now 3 1/2 games back of the Astros and A’s, who are tied atop the AL West.
“Welcome back, Robbie Cano,” Seattle manager Scott Servais said. “He’s a very talented player and he was due for one of those nights.”
Excess talent is what Cano has to produce in such moments. Facing right-hander Collin McHugh, Cano stayed on a 93-mph fastball on the last remaining millimeters of the outside corner of the plate. That recognizable swing produced a laser into left-center that cut through smoke-filled air and carried over the wall. MLB statcast measured the blast at 400 feet.
That’s something even the average MLB player couldn’t hope to do.
“Nah, it’s really hard to do that,” Servais said. “That’s why he’s had the career he’s had to this point.”
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After the team and the 27,072 spectators celebrated the homer, Ben Gamel ran back into the Mariners video room. He had to watch it again.
“First of all, watching him swing, there’s nothing like it,” Gamel said. “Watching him go that way, it’s fun. I went into the video room right after the home run to watch it over and over. It’s one of the prettiest things I’ve ever seen in my life. It speaks volumes of who he is as a player and what he can do at the plate. It’s just beautiful.”
Cano tried to downplay the accomplishment a little, saying he didn’t even think it was a homer.
“I was like, ‘No chance, please don’t catch it, please don’t catch it,'” Cano said. “I hit it pretty good, but in this ballpark, you never know.”
Cano sat at home during the suspension, daughter sitting with him, watching the Mariners play games and feeling helpless. He’d see situations like Monday night arise in games where it was his turn in the order and pray that his teammates would succeed. The feelings of guilt and regret would engulf him when they didn’t. It was his fault.
“I would get pretty sad,” Cano said. “I love this game so much. I like to be out there every day. It made it hard on myself. But the last thing I can do is look back and worry about myself. It’s about this team and that’s all that matters to me now.”
It was Cano’s sixth game since being reinstated. And while he’d accumulated six hits in the first five games, they were all singles and he hadn’t driven in a run yet. He was waiting and hoping for a monster game. He had three hits Monday, adding two doubles and another run scored.
“You miss all those games and you want to come back and be able to, but you aren’t going to be able to make up for all those games that you missed,” he said. “But the chances that you get, take advantage and help this team.”
Cano’s fifth homer of the season highlighted an eventful eighth inning that saw Dee Gordon get into an argument with home-plate umpire Mike Muchlinski and Servais get tossed for defending Gordon while preventing him from getting ejected.
“It’s way more important to save Dee,” Servais said. “I went out to get in the middle of it and it kind of went from there.”
Gordon appreciated his manager stepping into the situation to prevent his ejection.
“It shows us he’s got our back,” Gordon said. “It was probably a little melodramatic on my part, but he had my back. I have to keep my composure a little bit better than that. But we won so it’s all right.”
Gordon made up for it by beating out an infield single to first base to start the rally. Mitch Haniger worked a tough walk to bring Cano to the plate.
Given the lead, closer Edwin Diaz, who blew a save in his last outing, notched save No. 48, working a 1-2-3 ninth as the Mariners improved to 72-54. Diaz’s 48th save tied the club record set by Fernando Rodney in 2014.
Seattle starter Felix Hernandez did his job. He shook off some early trouble — specifically the hot bat of Marwin Gonzalez — to give the Mariners six innings pitched, four runs allowed on five hits with two walks and six strikeouts.
It wasn’t vintage dominance or even a quality start, but he kept the Mariners in the game, which is the expectation for any Seattle starter at this point in the season.
“I just went out there and tried to keep it a close game and that’s what I did,” he said.
Normally, it’s the reigning AL Most Valuable Player, Jose Altuve, who torments Hernandez in these games. But with Altuve on the disabled list and scheduled to come back Tuesday, it was Gonzalez who provided the hitting torture.
Gonzalez gave the Astros a 1-0 lead in the first inning, crushing a homer off the facade of the open-air portion of the Hit It Here Cafe in right field.
The Mariners answered with two runs in the bottom of the inning against Astros starter Gerrit Cole. Mitch Haniger led off with a single, advanced to third on Cano’s double to right and scored Jean Segura’s ground ball to shortstop. Cano later scored on Denard Span’s sacrifice fly to left field.
Gonzalez continued his carnage in the third inning. After Hernandez made the obvious mistake of walking No. 9 hitter Tony Kemp after getting up 0-2 in the count, Alex Bregman singled and Gonzalez smacked a double into right-center to score both runners. Gonzalez later hustled home on a wild pitch from Hernandez to make it 4-2.
The Mariners crawled back into the game, aided by the outfielder they brought up to help provide a spark to the offense. Ben Gamel, who was sent to Class AAA Tacoma on July 31 despite a .290 batting average, came through in his first game back. He singled to right field to start the fourth and scored on Mike Zunino’s line-drive double to left-center to cut the lead to 4-3.
Leading off the sixth and facing left-handed relief specialist Tony Sipp, Gamel bounced a double over the wall in center and later scored on Haniger’s two-out single to center.