It took a brilliant outing from Yusei Kikuchi, perhaps his best since 2019, and one swing of the bat from Taylor Trammell to provide the minimal amount offense required for the Seattle Mariners to pick up a 1-0 win over the Houston Astros to avoid a four-game sweep, pick up a rare win at Minute Maid Park and snap a four-game losing streak.
It was just the second time in the past 21 games in Houston that Seattle has found victory. The Mariners (14-12) finished the eight-game road trip with a 3-5 record and return to T-Mobile Park to open a three-game series vs. the Los Angeles Angels on Friday night.
Coming off a lackluster outing in Boston, Kikuchi flirted with a no-hitter for six-plus innings while shutting down a Houston lineup that has traditionally torched Mariners to notch his first win of the season.
“Heck of an outing and it couldn’t have come at a better time,” M’s manager Scott Servais said. “We’ve struggled in this ballpark and we needed to have somebody go out and do something like that to turn it in the right direction.”
On a day when the Mariners were forced to place rotation ace Marco Gonzales on the 10-day injured list with a forearm strain and an expectation he will miss at least a few starts, Kikuchi produced an outing that provided hope he might be able to step forward into a prominent role of reliability.
“I think not just myself, but the entire staff, definitely needs to step up,” Kikuchi said through interpreter Kevin Ando. “We need to go out and go deep into ballgames — an extra inning, or even just an extra out. I think we need to have the entire staff all just step up and contribute until Marco comes back.”
Kikuchi carried a no-hitter into the seventh. After striking out Alex Bregman, he had a prolonged at-bat with Carlos Correa in which he fell behind 3-1. After Correa fouled off a pair of pitches , Kikuchi misplaced a cut fastball — leaving it on the outside part of the plate instead of driving it to the inside corner. Correa pounced on the mistake, sending a line drive to right-center for a double.
“It was a full count and I just decided to go and challenge him there,” Kikuchi said. “I think a walk in that situation would have been the worst thing that I could do. So I just decided to be aggressive and challenge him in the zone.”
But instead of falling apart, Kikuchi maintained the 1-0 lead by making a sliding stop on a chopper in front of the mound and firing perfectly first to get Yuli Gurriel for the second out. He ended the inning and his outing by getting Aledmys Diaz to ground out to shortstop.
Kikuchi finished with seven shutout innings on 95 pitches with 61 strikes, including 17 swings and misses. He allowed the one hit while issuing two walks — both of which could have been strikeouts if not for what appeared to be missed calls on four pitches — and seven strikeouts.
“Awesome outing,” Servais said. “I can’t say enough about his competitiveness today. That’s what really stood out to me. Obviously, he had good stuff and (an) outstanding cutter, inducing all the ground balls and a ton of contact on the ground. It doesn’t get any bigger than that to shut that team down and take a no-hitter into the seventh against one of the better lineups in the American League.”
It was easily his best outing of what has largely been a decent first month of the 2021 season and of the shortened 2020 season when he failed to pitch into the seventh. The last time he was this good came on Aug. 18, 2019, a complete-game shutout vs. Toronto.
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