Nobody said it would easy. The Seattle Mariners cruised into Minutemaid Park fresh off a sweep of the Texas Rangers. Their opponents were the surprising., red-hot Houston Astros.
The Mariners scored two runs in the first inning when they loaded the bases against Astros starter, Scott Feldman. Nelson Cruz grounded into a double play, scoring Seth Smith. Kyle Seager followed with a single to push across Austin Jackson. Bingo, Mariners starter James Paxton had a 2-0 cushion. Unfortunately, it was all the runs the would get.
But the real story tonight was the pitching of Paxton. After last year’s promising season, the tall lefty stumbled out of the gate. Fighting injury most of spring training, Paxton had a strong first start against the Angels April 7th, only to be undone in his next three games. His last two starts, April 19th against the Rangers and April 25th against Minnesota, Paxton went only 4.2 and 2.2 innings respectively. Last night manager Lloyd McClendon was looking for more.
Paxton gave his teammates seven strong innings. Showing command of his fastball and devastating 12-6 breaking pitch, Paxton allowed only five hits and struck out seven.
The Astros lead the league in home runs and Jose Altuves. Though the former were absent in Thursday’s game, the diminutive second baseman would be their undoing. After the Mariners fruitful first inning, the Astros responded with a run in their half of the first when Evan Gattis scored Altuve on a ground out. The M’s nursed a one run lead into the 6th when Gattis repeated the formula again to drive in Luis Valbuena on an infield out.
Though the Mariners had plenty of base runners, with 11 hits, they could not manage the clutch hit to score the decisive run. The Mariners had runners in scoring position in the 2nd, 4th, 8th, and 9th innings.
By the 8th inning, both teams fully deployed their bullpens, and sent the game into extras. With Mariners right-hander Dominic Leone pitching, Marwin Gonzalez doubled. Colby Rasmus followed with a walk, bringing up Altuve. He smashed the first pitch he saw into the left field corner to score the winning run. Finis.
The strong outing for James Paxton should give Mariners hope as the M’s continue to search for consistent offense in their four game series against the Astros.