HOUSTON – It should have been a nice comfortable, drama-free Saturday afternoon for the Mariners.
Hisashi Iwakuma gave Seattle a quality outing in his first start of 2014 and his teammates rewarded his return with plenty of run support, scoring eight runs in the seventh inning and nine runs overall.
But nothing is simple for the Mariners, particularly against an Astros team with the worst record in the American League.
A seven-run lead after the top of the seventh turned into a 9-8 stomach-churner of a win for Seattle where closer Fernando Rodney had to work a rare four-out save to ensure victory.
“A win is a win,” manager Lloyd McClendon said. “Playing great and losing, you don’t get the ice cream for that. We get ice cream tonight. We won.”
After being ejected in the seventh inning, McClendon didn’t have to watch the ugliness of Yoervis Medina almost frittering away a 9-6 lead in the bottom of the eighth inning, giving up two runs and loading the bases.
With Danny Farquhar unavailable, bench coach Trent Jewett turned to Rodney to clean up Medina’s mess in the eighth with no margin for error.
Rodney, who has been anything but predictable this year, got the dangerous and diminutive Jose Altuve to fly out to right to end the inning.
In the ninth inning, Rodney, after hitting Dexter Fowler, struck out Jason Castro and Matt Dominguez and got Marc Krauss to fly out to right to pick up his seventh save of the season.
“We didn’t really have a choice,” McClendon said. “I thought Trent made a great move there.”
Trailing 2-0, the Mariners scraped a run across in the sixth inning. Stefen Romero tripled to right field and Robinson Cano scored him with a single to left field.
But things got really interesting in the seventh inning.
Houston starter Dallas Keuchel suddenly lost command of his pitches and the Mariners stopped helping him. He walked Justin Smoak and Cole Gillespie on a combined eight pitches. Brad Miller fell behind 1-2 trying a sacrifice bunt and Keuchel walked him.
With the Astros trying to stall to get a reliever ready to replace Keuchel, McClendon was ejected by home plate umpire Jim Hoyes. McClendon wasn’t pleased with the stalling tactics and voiced his opinion to Hoyes, who threw him out while he was sitting on the bench.
But the delay didn’t help the Astros. Mike Zunino worked a walk against Keuchel’s replacement, Jose Cisneros, to tie the game at 2-2. It was the first walk that Zunino had worked this season. His only other free pass had been intentional.
Michael Saunders then broke it open, doubling to right field to score two runs and make it 4-2. The Astros later went to lefty Raul Valdes with two outs to try to end the inning. But Kyle Seager hit an RBI double to right-center and Justin Smoak followed with a two-run homer. Smoak crushed the first pitch he saw from Valdes over the left-field stands and up onto the train tracks that trigger the retractable roof, some 50 feet above the stands.
“I hit it pretty good,” he deadpanned.
Up 9-2, Iwakuma gave up a solo homer to Chris Carter and then left with two outs in the inning.
Dominic Leone, who had been stellar in his last outing, gave up a two-run homer and a sac fly as the lead was reduced to 9-6.