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Mariners blow out Astros in Felix Hernandez’ return to the mound

Seattle Mariners’ Mike Zunino, right, is greeted at home by Mitch Haniger on his three-run home run as Houston Astros catcher Brian McCann waits for the next batter during the third inning of the M’s 13-3 win on June 23, 2017, in Seattle. (Elaine Thompson / Associated Press)
Seattle Mariners’ Mike Zunino, right, is greeted at home by Mitch Haniger on his three-run home run as Houston Astros catcher Brian McCann waits for the next batter during the third inning of the M’s 13-3 win on June 23, 2017, in Seattle. (Elaine Thompson / Associated Press)
By Bob Dutton Tacoma News Tribune

SEATTLE – Not that the Mariners will go quite this far, but Friday was something of a statement game with first-place Houston at Safeco Field for the start of a three-game weekend series.

The Mariners also had Felix Hernandez back on the mound for the first time in nearly two months. They had won five straight games, and pulled above .500 this season for the first time.

There are no “must” games in June, but this game, this weekend, offers the an opportunity for the Mariners, who are now finally getting healthy, to put down a marker as the season moves toward its midpoint.

“This is for real,” center fielder Jarrod Dyson said. “We’re trying to do whatever we can because these are the guys we’re chasing in our division. They got off to a great start, and they’ve been good all year.”

The Mariners responded by rolling to a 13-3 victory behind a 16-hit attack that included homers from Mike Zunino, Ben Gamel and Kyle Seager. For some icing, Dyson scored from second on a wild pitch.

“They did a good job of putting some good at bats together,” Astros manager A.J. Hinch said, “and we couldn’t stop them.”

Hernandez (3-2) was solid but not dominant in his first start since April 25. He held the Astros to three runs in six innings, while giving up eight hits, striking out six and walking one in a 96-pitch outing.

“I was OK,” he said. “One walk. I was a little off with my fastball, but I was comfortable. The shoulder feels good. I feel loose.”

Demoted starter Yovani Gallardo inherited a 9-3 lead to start the seventh and closed out the victory for his first big-league save. He had one in the minors in 2005.

The Mariners (39-37) have won a season-best six in a row and are 18-8 since bottoming out May 27 in a second straight shutout loss in Boston.

“It’s next man up,” said left fielder Ben Gamel, who went 2-for-5 and extended his hitting streak to 15 games. “Everyone is doing their job. Everyone is seeing pitches.

“We got into their bullpen in the fourth inning. That’s huge.”

Houston starter Joe Musgrove (4-7) took a beating: nine runs and 12 hits in just 3 2/3 innings as his ERA spiked to 6.01.

“He really made a lot of mistakes in the strike zone,” Hinch said, “and they made him pay for it.”

Yes, it’s just one game, and the Mariners, while in second place, still trail the Astros by a light year – 11 1/2 games. Even so, a pretty nice statement. The crowd of 31,783 then got postgame fireworks.

Hernandez dodged an immediate bullet when George Springer opened the game with a drive that backed Gamel to the 376-foot marker in left field.

But the King wasn’t as fortunate against long-time nemesis Jose Altuve with two outs. Altuve golfed a 1-0 changeup over the left-field wall for a homer and a 1-0 lead.

It was Altuve’s 14th hit in 27 career at-bats against Hernandez.

The Mariners pulled even in the second inning on Dyson’s RBI double but missed the chance for a bigger inning when Musgrove escaped a one-out jam with runners at second and third.

The escape was brief.

Gamel ignited a six-run third inning with a leadoff single. The Mariners loaded the bases when Nelson Cruz singled and Seager was hit by a pitch.

Mitch Haniger drove an RBI single into center, and Danny Valencia followed with a two-run single through the left side. Musgrove struck out Dyson, but Zunino crushed a first-pitch fastball for a three-run homer.

The Mariners led 7-1.

Hernandez gave one run back in the fourth on Marwin Gonzalez’s two-out RBI single, but Gamel answered with a leadoff homer later in the inning. Seager’s two-out homer boosted the lead to 9-2.

Again, Hernandez gave one run back. Alex Bergman led off the fifth inning with a 426-foot homer to straightaway center.

The Mariners added three more runs in the seventh against James Hoyt after Valencia led off with fourth single and moved to third on Dyson’s second double. Both runners scored on a wild pitch.

“I just got caught up in the moment,” Dyson said. “I wasn’t even thinking about the score. I felt he took his time to get to the ball. He wasn’t expecting me to go. I really wasn’t expecting me to go. It was a last-minute thing.

“I just took my chances.”

PLAY(S) OF THE GAME (IN THE NOT-SCORING FROM SECOND BASE ON A WILD PITCH CATEGORY): Houston right fielder Josh Reddick made a sliding catch in foul ground just shy of the wall on Mitch Haniger’s slicing fly for the first out in the second inning.

Seager made a leaping backhand catch on Yuri Gurriel’s two-out liner in the sixth.

PLUS: Valencia had his fourth four-hit game of the season and the eighth of his career…Gamel has hits in 25 of his last 26 games…Zunino has 29 RBIs in June. The club record for June is 32 by Edgar Martinez in 1995…

MINUS: Robinson Cano went hitless in five at-bats. Every other Mariners starter reached base at least twice. There wasn’t much else that didn’t go well for the Mariners.

STAT PACK: The Mariners’ 13 runs were the most this season by a Houston opponent.

QUOTABLE: Hernandez got his 157th career victory and passed Freddy Garcia as the all-time leader among Venezuelan-born pitchers. Garcia was 156-108 in a 15-year from 1999-2013.

“It’s an honor to pass a real good friend,” Hernandez said. “It’s an honor to be the Venezuelan player with the most wins.”

SHORT HOPS: Jean Segura’s high right ankle sprain still isn’t 100 percent. It raised concerns when he downshifted severely in the seventh inning when his drive that kicked off Springer’s glove in center for a double. Taylor Motter entered the game as a pinch runner. Afterward, Servais said Segura is fine: “When it’s time to run hard and score from second on a base-hit, I feel pretty confident that he can do that. But we had a big lead in the game, and I wanted to get him out of there.”

ON DECK: The Mariners and Astros continue their three-game series at 7:10 p.m. Saturday at Safeco Field. Right-hander Sam Gaviglio (3-1 with a 3.43 ERA) will oppose Houston right-hander Lance McCullers (6-1, 2.58).

McCullers must be activated Saturday from the disabled list. He hasn’t pitched since June 8 because of discomfort in his lower back.

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