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Grip on Sports: Mariners, Paxton get the drop on Houston and now know they will leave town still on top in the West

Seattle Mariners starting pitcher James Paxton delivers a pitch during the first inning of the team's baseball game against the Houston Astros, Tuesday, June 5, 2018, in Houston. (Eric Christian Smith / Associated Press)
Seattle Mariners starting pitcher James Paxton delivers a pitch during the first inning of the team's baseball game against the Houston Astros, Tuesday, June 5, 2018, in Houston. (Eric Christian Smith / Associated Press)

A GRIP ON SPORTS • There was an old-time showdown in Houston last night, but the script lacked a bit of drama. If you are a Mariners’ fan, it’s pretty obvious you didn’t mind. Read on.

••••••••••

• Yes, the baseball season is a marathon, not a sprint. But in any marathon, there are important stretches, little hills or segments that are crucial to ultimate success.

The Mariners ran into one last night, the first of two games on the road against the defending world champions. That the Houston Astros are also the defending American League West champions is not immaterial, as winning the division is one of Seattle first goals in this rebuilding process.

So last night’s contest, which began with the M’s leading the West by a game, was crucial. Add in Seattle had its best starting pitcher on the mound and it became more so.

A good start, to the game and the series, was imperative. Which makes Kyle Seager’s three-run home run even more noteworthy.

Not just because Seager’s blast gave the Mariners more than enough runs but because it came off a left-handed pitcher (one of the best, Dallas Keuchel) and it ended in the left-field seats.

Yes, Seager, such a pull hitter that some teams seemingly put 18 defenders on the right side of second base, hit the most important home run of his career the opposite way.

If ever there was a metaphor for the Mariners’ season, that was it. They are doing the unexpected. 

Not just Seager, but just about everyone on the roster. Ben Gamel is lining balls all over the ballpark. Guillermo Heredia is playing Gold Glove-level defense in centerfield. Mitch Haniger is hitting third and filling the spot admirably. Dee Gordon is the starting second baseman. The starting pitching has been solid. The relief pitching has been dominant more often than not.

Heck, the defense, which was suspect – a kind term – last year, has become solid this one, with not only the last 13 games passing without an error, but spectacular plays cropping up seemingly every game, including last night. 

Were they appreciated? Sure. But James Paxton was so dominant they did not make a huge difference. Not with his fastball cruising in over 95 miles per hour consistently and his command such that only a few Astro hitters had good swings.

The 7-1 victory gives the Mariners a five-game winning streak and ensures they will leave Houston where they entered, atop the West standings. Whether that lead will be three games or one when they arrive in Florida is probably up to Wade LeBlanc, the revelation out of the bullpen and the M’s most consistent pitcher in May.

No matter. That’s for tonight. For now, just remember when the showdown came on a dusty field in Texas, the Mariners were quicker on the draw.

•••

WSU: Around the Pac-12, Las Vegas projects football win totals this time of year, with the Cougars’ pegged at 6.5. Looking at the schedule and the turnover at key spots, the under is looking pretty good. … If you have been wondering how the Cougars’ athletic department could pay down their debt to the school, here is one way. If Colorado State is receiving $37.7 million for the naming rights to its stadium, Washington State should be able to get at least $40 million to rename Martin Stadium, right? … Arizona State believes the fans will come next basketball season. … A former USC cornerback is headed to junior college to try to repair his tattered transcript. … Utah’s new athletic director may change some things. … Oregon State will host Minnesota in the baseball Super Regional. … Washington came up short in its quest for another NCAA softball title, swept by Florida State.

Gonzaga: There has been some speculation former GU guard Kevin Pangos would join an NBA club for next season. But it doesn’t seem likely now that Pangos has reportedly agreed to a high-paying contract with FC Barcelona. Jim Meehan has more in this story. … Jim also covers the news concerning Few Good Men, the Gonzaga-centric team in The Basketball Tournament. Except it won’t be as Gonzaga-centric with additions of WSU alum DaVonte Lacy and Eastern’s Jacob Wiley. … Larry Weir and Jim spoke yesterday for the Press Box pod. … Former Gonzaga star Nigel Williams-Goss is looking forward to another shot at making the Utah Jazz roster. 

Idaho: The Vandals had an unexpected opening on their football coaching staff and coach Paul Petrino moved quickly to fill it. Peter Harriman covers the genesis of Adam Breske, son of defensive coordinator Paul Breske, joining the staff as inside linebacker coach. … The Big Sky Conference has banned players with violent crime convictions. 

Whitworth: The Pirates’ Hugh Smith was drafted by the Detroit Tigers in the sixth round yesterday. Dave Nichols has the story.

Preps: Gonzaga Prep’s Anton Watson didn’t make the final cut for USA Basketball’s U18 team. Dave has more in this piece. … Former Mt. Spokane star Drew Rasmussen was drafted again despite not pitching at Oregon State following his second Tommy John surgery.

Mariners: Paxton’s pitching combined with three home runs was the winning formula Tuesday night. … Hey, isn’t that the special assistant to the chairman throwing batting practice? Talk about varied duties. … The draft continues.

Seahawks: Should the Hawks have traded Earl Thomas? … The NFL’s new national anthem policy seems to be causing some problems in the locker room. 

Sounders: Trust the process Sounders fans. At least that’s what I heard after reading what owner Adrian Hanauer told the Seattle Times’ Geoff Baker yesterday.

•••        

• Another aspect of this recent hot streak for the Mariners? They are playing with more fire. Which is a chicken or egg question. Does the winning cause the emotion or does the emotion cause the winning? Or is it grounded in the banishment of their highest-paid player? Until later … 


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