Seattle moves two games behind idle Baltimore as Cano’s second homer of the game helps earn a 4-3 victory over Houston.
HOUSTON — Robinson Cano wouldn’t let the Mariners lose this game. He wouldn’t let their playoff hopes slowly fade into next season, not yet.
Having already homered earlier in the game to provide one of the precious few runs for Seattle on Monday night, Cano did it again to put his team up for good and allow the Mariners to dream about the playoffs for another day.
With two outs in the top of the 11th and the Mariners looking like a team that may never score again, Cano crushed a hanging slider from Luke Gregerson into the right field upper deck of Minute Maid Park. The solo blast — his 35th homer of the season — provided the difference in the Mariners’ 4-3 win over the Astros.
Mariners @ Houston, 5:10 p.m., ROOT Sports
“I was looking for a good pitch,” Cano said. “He’s one of the best pitchers in the game. You just want to go out there and be able to make contact and get on base for Nelly (Cruz) and (Kyle) Seager that are coming behind — just get on base. I got the pitch and was able to hit it out.”
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Of course, closing out the game just couldn’t be simple for the Mariners, particularly against a Houston team that has ripped expected victories away from them far too often this season.
“It’s the 2016 Mariners,” manager Scott Servais said with a weary laugh. “Would anything else surprise you?”
Called on to protect the one-run lead in the bottom of the 11th, reliever Nick Vincent gave up back-to-back, one-out singles to Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa to put the tying and winning runs on base.
Would it be a repeat of the ninth-inning failures that sent the game into extra innings?
No. Vincent coolly struck out Evan Gattis and got pinch-hitter Yuli Gurriel to pop out to end the game and collect his second save.
“Nick’s been really, really good,” Servais said. “He’s got a lot of confidence right now.”
With the win, Seattle (83-73) moved two games out of the second wild card and into a tie with the Tigers, who lost in Cleveland.
“We’ve got a chance,” Servais said. “That’s what we’ve been playing for and the guys, you can feel it, they really believe. Big game tomorrow night. We’ve got to keep taking care of business here and hopefully get home for the weekend and still have a chance there. I’ve been saying it for a month and a half — it’s a game at a time and all that other good stuff. These guys believe it. They know what’s on the line every night.”
They had to believe after a surreal ninth inning where they went from the high of being gifted a big insurance run to seeing their rookie closer blow his third save of the season and having to hang on by his fingertips to send the game to extra innings.
The Mariners exited the top of the ninth with an inexplicable 3-1 lead thanks to an awful fielding gaffe by Astros reliever James Hoyt. Up 2-1, Ketel Marte singled with one out. With two strikes, Ben Gamel bunted the ball back to the mound — a curious decision to be certain.
“It was a miscommunication is the best way to put it,” Servais said. “But it worked out great — the one-out, two-strike, sac bunt.”
The misunderstanding of the signs by Gamel from third-base coach Manny Acta yielded a run. Hoyt fielded the ball and rushed his throw to first, throwing it high and over the head of Tyler White at first base. The ball bounced into right-field foul territory. Marte scored all the way from first.
Brought on to close out a 3-1 lead, Edwin Diaz struggled with the command of his slider, giving up two runs and coming close to allowing the winning run.
After back-to-back singles to start the inning, a failed double play on Jose Altuve’s ground ball to third allowed a run to score to make it 3-2. Altuve later stole second and scored easily on Correa’s RBI single to tie the score at 3-3. A single from Gattis moved the winning run to third. But Diaz struck out White and got Tony Kemp to pop out to first to send the game into extras.
“I wasn’t going to let that run score,” Diaz said.
The Mariners managed two runs against Astros’ starter Collin McHugh, which is better than their previous two games combined against him. They picked up a run in the first on a Cruz fielder’s choice to lead 1-0.
Cano’s bounce-back season now includes a personal best in homers. With one out in the third inning, he hammered a 1-1 cutter from McHugh into the Houston bullpen for a solo homer and a 2-0 Mariners lead.