Kyle Seager, Mike Zunino and Jean Segura all hit homers over the Crawford Boxes and James Paxton pitched into the eighth as Mariners opened their road swing with easy victory over defending champions.
HOUSTON — Perhaps those Crawford Boxes aren’t such a bad thing.
For years, that section of seats that shortens the left field in Minute Maid Park into haven for cheaply hit home runs has been a place where Mariners’ victory hopes go to die.
Seemingly every game, a high fly ball that would be caught back home at Safeco Field, carries over the wall in left for a costly homer.
It’s left many a Mariners pitcher grumbling about the actual fairness of the park.
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But on Tuesday their opinions of the short porch changed … for the moment. The Mariners, specifically Kyle Seager, took full advantage of the Crawford Boxes. Seager hit a three-run homer that snuck over the 19-foot wall in the first inning to set the tone in a relatively easy 7-1 win over the Astros.
The Mariners improved to 38-22 with their fifth straight win and pushed their lead in the American League West to two games. They’ve won 14 of their last 17 games.
“It’s a nice way to start the road trip,” manager Scott Servais said. “Guys come out and swing the bat well and make a statement. Hopefully it continues.”
The Mariners know it’s early in the season, but these games seem to have added importance given the past struggles in Houston.
“I remember not winning very many games here,” Seager said. “They do have a good team and that was last year. We have a different group here. It’s a different bunch of guys. It’s a very resilient team and we’ve been playing a different brand of baseball.”
Seattle had already pieced together a run in the first inning off Astros starter Dallas Keuchel before Seager stepped to the plate. Dee Gordon reached on an infield single and advanced to second on Jose Altuve’s throwing error on the play. He would later score when Mitch Haniger pushed his team lead in RBI to 43 with a fielder’s choice.
Following a Nelson Cruz infield single, Seager stayed on a fastball on the outside corner of the plate sending a fly ball to left that had an exit velocity of 95 mph and a launch angle of 29 degrees.
“This is definitely one of the few places where I thought it would have a chance,” Seager said. “I hit it good, but I don’t hit a lot of home runs that way so I was excited it got out. I didn’t actually see where it went out, but I will take it. I’m not giving it back.”
By MLB statcast measures, that exit velocity and launch angle on similar balls in play produces a hit just 9 percent of the time. Still, it was Seager’s 10th homer of the season and the three-run shot meant a 4-0 lead before the Astros even had an at-bat.
“We’re in Houston,” Servais said. “It’s the ballpark. It’s conducive to left-handers hitting the ball in the air there. Big hit in the game.”
Seager’s homer might help ease the pain of some of the other homers that have worked against them.
“It’s a different ballpark and you know it coming in,” Servais said. “You never feel really feel comfortable because of the power they have. But if you can use the park to your advantage once in a while it makes you feel good because it hasn’t been our friend recently.”
But the Mariners didn’t rely on ballpark quirks for their two other homers off Keuchel, who gave up seven runs on seven hits in 61/3 innings.
An inning later, Keuchel gave up a leadoff single to Ben Gamel and then made the regrettable mistake of leaving a slider over the plate to Mike Zunino.
The freakishly strong Zunino yanked the give pitch to left. The only question is whether the ball would stay foul and where it would hit high above the Crawford Boxes. The ball did stay fair by more than a few feet and smacked off the glass above the train tracks that are used to open the retractable roof. The ridiculous blast left the bat with an exit speed of 110 mph and traveled 429 feet per statcast.
“Z got all of that one,” Servais said.
Seattle’s other run came in the fifth inning when Jean Segura joined the homer parade, launching a solo blast off the signage above the Crawford Boxes.
Seven runs was more than enough for Seattle ace James Paxton, who delivered a solid, if not dominant performance.
Paxton tossed 72/3 innings, allowing one run on nine hits with a walk and six strikeouts to improve to 5-1. He had to adjust on the fly with the Astros trying to build his pitch count and drag out at-bats.
“They were up there taking pitches and trying to get into hitters counts,” Paxton said. “Early I didn’t have very location and I was falling behind a little bit and they were able to cheat to some fastballs in hitter’s counts. I really had to force the issue of getting into the strike zone early.”
Paxton even went to his sinking two-seam fastball as a way to combat the patience of the Astros. The adjustments and the Mariners defense allowed him to get into the eighth inning. He was also aided by inning-ending double plays in the fifth, sixth and seventh innings.
“I feel like I’ve gotten better at making adjustments within the game from hitter to hitter and how to use my stuff that I have that day against a particular team,” he said.
His only run allowed came in the second inning when he allowed an RBI double to Marwin Gonzalez. But he came back to strikeout the next two batters to limit the damage and strand a pair of runners on base.
“He didn’t have a feel for his breaking ball early in the game,” Servais said. “You can’t really just throw fastballs to a club like this. He made some adjustments and got on a roll in the middle innings.”