ST. PETERSBURG -- Mike Leake doesn't have overpowering stuff -- or overwhelming numbers, for that matter -- but the veteran right-hander has been one of the major catalysts in the Mariners' surge to the top of the American League West.
Leake handcuffed the Rays in Thursday's 5-4 series-opening win at Tropicana Field, allowing just two runs over eight-plus innings as he improved to 6-3 with a 4.46 ERA. The 30-year-old has gone 3-0 with a 2.79 ERA over his past six starts, all wins by a Seattle club that holds a one-game lead over Houston atop the AL West.
The Mariners had to survive a three-run, bases-clearing double by Johnny Field off reliever Alex Colome in the ninth, but third baseman Kyle Seager made an excellent play to get Daniel Robertson for the final out and add to Seattle's Major League-leading 19-9 record in one-run games.
"I guess we wanted to add on to our one-run wins," manager Scott Servais said with a smile. "That wasn't the way we planned it tonight, but we'll take it. The defense was outstanding. Rough travel night last night, we didn't get much sleep. But we got enough offense early in the game, and pitching and defense was the story again."
Starting pitching has fueled the Mariners' run as the rotation is now 10-1 with a 2.24 ERA over the past 21 games.
"Those guys are just going about their business, they're attacking guys and going right at it," Seager said. "Leake today was about as efficient can be. He always has the big sink, so you get the ground balls, and we've been able to turn quite a few double plays when guys have been on base. Leake was awesome today, and our pitching in general has been unbelievable."
Leake has now thrown 15 innings against the Rays over his past two starts, allowing four runs, and said he had to switch things around after seeing so much of the same club.
"I had to kind of dig deep into the tool box and mix-and-match more with the selection of pitches," Leake said.
Mitch Haniger went 2-for-3 with a home run and three RBIs, while Denard Span homered in his first game back at Tropicana Field since being traded to Seattle two weeks ago.
The Mariners have won six of their last seven games and are 17-6 since Robinson Cano was hurt and then suspended, the best record in the Majors in that span.
Leake allowed eight hits, but only one walk -- his first in his past five starts -- to go with three strikeouts. Colome replaced Leake after a leadoff double by Wilson Ramos in the ninth and wound up scrambling to close things out, with help from Seager.
The Rays have lost seven straight, including four to the Mariners, in falling to 28-33.
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The Mariners scored a couple runs on long balls, but they also tallied twice on a slow-roller single by Haniger -- a grounder with a 63-mph exit velocity, according to Statcast™ -- that glanced off the glove of a diving shortstop Daniel Robertson behind second base and deflected into shallow right field. David Freitas scored easily from second base on the play, but Jean Segura also hustled all the way home from first as he smartly rounded third and kept going when right fielder Carlos Gomez casually tossed the ball into second. The two runs gave Seattle a three-run lead in the third.
"I saw he tossed it slowly to the shortstop, so I just took off," Segura said. "You're running on the bases, you have to watch what other people do. We took advantage."
Leake's walk of C.J. Cron in the eighth inning ended a string of 140 straight batters without a base on balls for the right-hander over a span of seven games. That's the longest streak in the Majors this year, passing the 139 of the Indians' Corey Kluber.
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Seager's game-ending stop on Robertson's chopper down the third-base line was another outstanding play for the third baseman, who is having an excellent year with the glove. And this one couldn't have been timelier as it got Colome out of a jam after three runs had already scored.
"He used the turf to his advantage," Servais said. "Sometimes guys panic there and try to throw that ball in the air. Kyle has a great internal clock and is very seasoned over there. He knows what he's doing at third base. He played it perfectly and [first baseman Ryon Healy] did a nice job on the other end. There were a number of really good defensive plays all over the diamond tonight."
Left-hander Marco Gonzales (6-3, 3.38 ERA) will look to continue his hot streak as the Mariners take on the Rays at 4:10 p.m. PT on Friday at Tropicana Field. Gonzales has given up just one earned run and 16 hits over 26 innings in his past four starts, including 6 2/3 innings of one-run ball in a 3-1 win over Tampa Bay last week at Safeco Field. The Rays will counter with righty Wilmer Font (0-0, 8.53) as they go with a reliever to open the game for a third straight day.