The Mariners (17-11) are now 15-5 in their past 20 games.
HOUSTON — In a battle between all-star second basemen trying to carry their teams to victory on Thursday night, the one who got the last at-bat won.
Robinson Cano and Jose Altuve did everything they could to help their teams pull out a win, but it was Cano who got the final swing and the final say in the Mariners’ 6-3 win over the Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park.
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In a 3-3 game in the top of the ninth, Seattle loaded the bases with one out against Astros closer Luke Gregerson, bringing Cano, who already had two hits and an RBI in the game, to the plate.
“I was ready,” Cano said. “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 one of the nasty — cutter, slider and sinker — everything moves. So I was ready for the first pitch, something over the plate to be able to hit the ball out of the infield. I didn’t want to hit into a double play again.”
There was no double play, just a game-winning double.
Cano calmly crushed a 1-0 cutter over the head of Carlos Gomez into center field to clear the bases and give Seattle the lead for good.
In the bottom of the ninth, Altuve stood on the top step of the dugout and could only watch as Mariners closer Steve Cishek worked a scoreless frame to notch his ninth save of the season. Altuve’s scorching bat would have to wait for another day.
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For the Mariners (17-11), it was their fourth win in a row. They are now 15-5 in their last 20 games.
“I would say everything is falling in place,” Cano said.
He finished the game with three hits and four RBI and he leads the American League with 30 RBI this season.
“I’ve been looking for my pitch,” Cano said. “I’m not trying to do too much. Even if you can get one run at a time, sometimes as a hitter if you’re trying to get two or three, that’s when (bad) things happen. I’m just trying to work the middle of the field.”
A season ago, Cano didn’t tally his 30th RBI until July 9 — a span of 83 games.
“He uses the whole field,” manager Scott Servais said. “He’s not trying to hit homers, he’s not trying to kill the ball, he’s just using his hands. He’s got great talent, the ball jumps off the bat and he’s getting good pitches to hit. If you look at the at-bats he finds a way to get into good counts. He’s aggressive but he’s looking for his pitch.”
Altuve finished 4 for 4 with a homer and a double and two RBI. He’s now tied with Cano and Josh Donaldson for most homers in the AL with nine.
He led off the game with a homer off Wade Miley and tied the game at 3-3 in the seventh with an RBI double off reliever Nick Vincent that landed on Tal’s Hill near the center-field fence.
“Altuve is a great player at any time, but he’s swinging the bat really well right now, so it makes it tough,” said catcher Chris Iannetta. “He’s not a guy you can pitch around. You can put him on base and it could be a triple with the way he runs. It’s challenging. You try to make pitches, limit him to singles and hope he hits it at somebody.”
Miley pitched six innings, giving up two runs on five hits with two walks and five strikeouts.
“The goal was to keep him to singles, but the first one got away,” Miley said of Altuve. “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.”
Seattle appeared to go up for good in the seventh.
Down 2-1, Seth Smith delivered in a rare at-bat against a left-handed pitcher. With Astros lefty specialist Tony Sipp on the mound, Smith pulled a 2-2 slider through the right side to score a pair of runs and give Seattle a 3-2 lead.
“I faced him before,” Smith said. “But I don’t face him enough to know what’s coming or what he’s trying to do, really. 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.”
But the Mariners couldn’t keep the lead. Reliever Joel Peralta replaced Miley, started the seventh and gave up a double to Tyler White. Peralta came back to strike out Preston Tucker, but walked pinch-hitter Jason Castro to bring Altuve to the plate.
Servais went to his best matchup for a tough right-hander — Vincent, who had allowed just one hit in 20 at-bats vs. right-handed hitters. But Altuve made it two, hammering a deep fly ball over Leonys Martin’s head in center. It went for a double and White jogged home to score the tying run.
But a good first throw from Martin and a solid relay throw from Ketel Marte was able to get Castro trying to score.