HOUSTON -- Mitch Haniger had never before led off a game in his Major League career, let alone hit a leadoff home run off Justin Verlander.But the Mariners right fielder got Seattle started on the right foot in Thursday's series opener against the Astros at Minute Maid Park and never
HOUSTON -- Mitch Haniger had never before led off a game in his Major League career, let alone hit a leadoff home run off Justin Verlander.
But the Mariners right fielder got Seattle started on the right foot in Thursday's series opener against the Astros at Minute Maid Park and never let up, as he went 4-for-5 with two doubles in addition to his home run in an 8-6 win over the American League West leaders. With the win, Seattle moves within 2 1/2 games of Oakland for the second AL Wild Card spot.
"I batted leadoff in college and in the Minor Leagues," Haniger said. "I've always liked it. I really don't care where I hit. As long as there are hits, it's fine with me."
Looking for a spark for his slumping club, manager Scott Servais juggled his lineup and then watched in wonder as the Mariners pulled off a rarity. They hit for the cycle off Verlander in the first inning in reverse order, as Denard Span followed Haniger with a triple, Jean Segura doubled and Nelson Cruz singled before Houston's ace recorded his first out.
According to STATS, Inc., the Mariners are the first team in the live-ball era (since 1920) to have its first four batters of a game hit for the cycle in reverse order.
"The guys liked mixing it up," Servais said. "It was fresh, and certainly, it paid off tonight. We were right on Verlander early in the ballgame and that's when you've got to get him. It was a good way to start the series. Hopefully, we can get a little momentum going here."
By game's end, Haniger, Segura and Span all wound up just missing cycles of their own, with Haniger and Segura coming up a triple short and Span just needing a double to complete that rare feat. Segura went 3-for-5 with a home run, double and two RBIs, while Span homered and tripled in the first two innings in a 3-for-3 night with three RBIs.
James Paxton took advantage of the offensive outburst to pick up his 10th win of the season, allowing four runs on seven hits and three walks over 5 2/3 innings as Seattle improved to 66-50.
"I don't think I was at my best," Paxton said. "Tonight was all about the offense, and I kept us ahead. Those guys did a great job getting us runs early, and I just tried to hold them. [The Astros] put together some really good at-bats. They were grinding and they made me grind. But we got it done."
Haniger had hit in every position in the batting order except for the leadoff spot in his three years in the Majors, but he was inserted into the top spot in the lineup as Servais looked to mix things up for a club that had lost 19 of 29 games since July 4 to fall below the surging A's in the race for the AL's second Wild Card spot.
Haniger's leadoff bolt, projected at 405 feet by Statcast™, came on a 95-mph fastball from Verlander on a 1-1 count and glanced high off the wall behind the left-field Crawford Boxes at Minute Maid Park.
Haniger was an American League All-Star this season and he's racked up 19 homers and 74 RBIs on the year. But he'd gone 23 games -- since July 10 -- without a homer while batting .228 with just two doubles prior to his three extra-base hit breakout. He did have a .347 on-base percentage in that span, however, and Servais dropped former leadoff hitter Dee Gordon to the No. 9 spot for the first time this year and the move paid instant dividends.
"I'm always working on my swing, but I feel like I haven't been using my hips as well as I normally do, so that's been my focus the last couple days," Haniger said. "It was good to see some results and that I was driving the ball tonight."
The last Seattle batter to lead off a game with a home run was Norichika Aoki on May 28, 2016, vs. the Twins.
The Mariners kept at it in the second inning, as Haniger ripped a two-out double and Span and Segura followed with back-to-back homers for a 6-0 lead before Verlander was ejected after that frame.
The Astros chipped away at the lead and had the tying run at the plate in the seventh, but Alex Colome shut down that threat and pitched a scoreless eighth before Edwin Diaz sealed his MLB-leading 43rd save despite giving up a solo home run to Tyler White.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Verlander picked Haniger off second following his two-out double in the second inning but was called for a balk. Not only did that allow Haniger to advance to third, it kept the inning alive and Span followed with a two-run homer and Segura added a solo shot for a 6-0 lead. Verlander wasn't pleased with the call and wound up being ejected between innings, leaving him with six runs allowed on seven hits in just two frames.
Haniger became just the eighth leadoff hitter in Mariners history with three extra-base hits, including a home run, in one game. The others: Segura (2017), Michael Saunders ('13), Ichiro Suzuki ('09), Joey Cora (1998), Harold Reynolds ('90), Mickey Brantley ('87) and Danny Tartabull ('86).
YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
Segura came closest to notching a cycle when he laced a sixth-inning line drive that right fielder Tony Kemp snared with a last-second leap. Had the ball got over Kemp's head, Segura easily would have had a double, and he was thinking triple after hitting a double, homer and single in his first three at-bats.
"I thought, 'For sure,'" Segura said. "It was on my mind, trying to hit that gap there. Kemp made a good play. You see how hard this game is [to get a cycle]."
HE SAID IT
"He's one of the best in the game, but today, he was all over the place. He was not commanding his fastball or his breaking ball, and the guys took advantage." -- Segura on jumping on Verlander, who missed a chance to pick up his 200th career win
Mike Leake (8-7, 4.16 ERA) takes on Astros right-hander Gerrit Cole (10-4, 2.64) in Friday's 5:10 p.m. PT game at Minute Maid Park. Leake is 0-3 with a 4.28 ERA over his last seven starts, including a 5-2 loss to Houston on July 31 when he allowed three runs on eight hits over six innings. He's 0-2 in two starts against the Astros this year but is 6-6 with a 3.72 ERA in 14 appearances in his career.
Greg Johns has covered the Mariners since 1997, and for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB.