HOUSTON — The Mariners came to Houston with three straight wins.
But two of the three teams they did that against were Baltimore and Texas – both with losing records – and Houston in Seattle.
So could the Mariners continue their role in a ballpark where they fight, against the runaway leader in the AL West and yet another title contender?
The answer was, at least for one night, yes. Also on a night when Robbie Ray, the reigning winner of the AL Cy Young Award, struggled again.
Cal Raleigh hit a three-run homer and drove in four, Julio Rodriguez hit a two-run throw and the bullpen was outstanding, leading the Mariners to a 7-4 win over the Astros on Monday night.
The game had a wild last inning with three throws and the benches cleared after the Mariners’ Ty France was hit by a pitch. But it was the work done much earlier that allowed Seattle to win.
“Interesting game tonight, I think that’s the best way to put it,” said Mariners manager Scott Servais. “This place has not been good to us and we need to change it. Sometimes playing with a little emotion and nervousness can help and our boys responded to that late in the game. It was a good win.”
The Mariners didn’t have history on their side.
They had won just four of their last 30 games at Minute Maid Park, including a three-game streak last month.
As if that wasn’t discouraging enough, Houston starter Cristian Javier hadn’t scored in three career starts against the Mariners, which spanned 18 1/3 innings. Javier threw 5 2/3 against Seattle in a 4-0 win in Houston here on May 3rd.
Seattle ended its drought against Javier in the first inning. Rodriguez hit a two-out single at center and JP Crawford drove him home with a double.
Houston needed just three pitches to close the deficit at the end of the inning. Jose Altuve destroyed a Ray fastball that was in the center of the hitting zone and sent it well over the seats in left field for his 175th career homer.
The Mariners reacted quickly. Adam Frazier started the second inning with a walk. Dylan Moore, who had a rare start against a right-handed pitcher, was hit by a pitch with an out.
That put Raleigh up, hitting .152. Doesn’t matter. The Mariners’ catcher hit a line drive into the right field seats for his sixth homer of the season, giving the Mariners a 4-1 lead.
“We’re seeing Cal Raleigh rise,” Servais said. “It comes together for him. He hits the ball hard, with power and has really good bats.”
But Ray, winner of last year’s Cy Young Award with Toronto, who signed a five-year, $115 million deal with Seattle during the offseason, once again failed to hold the lead.
Homers from Kyle Tucker and Chas McCormick made a pair, and Altuve tapped on an unearned run after a throwing error by Crawford at shortstop to level the score at 4.
Raleigh came through again in the fourth inning. Adam Frazier led the inning with a double and ended a 0-for-20 streak, but it looked like he was stuck in second place after Javier pulled out the next two batsmen.
Enter Raleigh, who hit through the middle to hit Frazier. After a single from Jesse Winker, Javier’s night was over after allowing five earned runs in 3 2/3 innings.
This was the third time Ray had a clue to work with. On the first two occasions, the guides held out one. And that would have been fate again if it hadn’t been for a great defensive game.
Altuve ripped a one-out single into right field, and Michael Brantley followed with a double that bounced off the wall in right field. Moore caught the ball and made a nice throw to second baseman Frazier, who tossed a one-hopper to Raleigh.
The catcher tagged Altuve, who was trying to score from first base.
“The biggest play in the game was that relay shot when we threw the guy on the plate,” Servais said.
Ray then worked a scoreless fifth inning and left the bullpen with a run lead.
That was the good news of his trip. The Bad: Once again, he was hurt by a bad inning, but he was never in a good groove, allowing the four runs to eight hits and three walks.
But he ended with three games goalless and it was good enough for him and the Mariners to win thanks to offense and the bullpen’s outstanding work.
“I’m going to give Robbie a lot of credit because as ugly as it was early on, he tried to make some adjustments and was able to put three zeros in for us,” Servais said. “It meant everything so that we could go through and win the game.”
Ray said, “It seemed like they were on my stuff, so I knew I had to make an adjustment and started mixing it up a bit more.”
Penn Murfee pitched 1 2/3 innings scoreless. Ryan Borucki made his Mariners debut, helping Houston’s slugger Yordan Alvarez to finish in seventh place.
Sergio Romo worked his way out of trouble in game eight, hitting the side.
The Mariners got some reassurance when Julio Rodriguez hit a two-run homer in the ninth right after France was hit by a pitch from Hector Neris that caused both teams to get on the field.
“He threw a ball behind Ty France, that’s pretty clear,” Servais said.
There was a lot of laughter, but not much more. Servais was ejected, although afterwards he wasn’t sure why.
“Cleared the benches and [the umpires] will intervene and do something, and they did,” Servais said of his expulsion.
After Rodriguez’s homer, Neris threw in Eugenio Suarez. Neris, who had been warned, was ejected this time along with Astros manager Dusty Baker.
After the drama, Diego Castillo ended it with little drama at the end of the ninth. That secured the Mariners their first successful road trip of the season and earned them one win versus another consecutive win.