HOUSTON -- The Astros have waited 16 years for another division title, so what's another day?After topping the Mariners, 8-6, on Saturday afternoon behind a pitching gem from Dallas Keuchel at Minute Maid Park, the Astros lowered their magic number to one and needed only an Angels loss to the
HOUSTON -- The Astros have waited 16 years for another division title, so what's another day?
After topping the Mariners, 8-6, on Saturday afternoon behind a pitching gem from Dallas Keuchel at Minute Maid Park, the Astros lowered their magic number to one and needed only an Angels loss to the Rangers on Saturday night in Anaheim to clinch their first division crown since moving to the American League West in 2013. But the Angels won, 2-0, temporarily denying Houston its seventh division crown in franchise history and first since winning the National League Central in 2001.
The Astros have a chance to clinch with a win in Sunday's series finale against Seattle when Justin Verlander makes his first home start since being acquired from the Tigers.
With Keuchel throwing six innings of one-run ball, Houston is 90-58 with 14 games to play, reaching its first 90-win season since 2004. With three straight victories, Houston sits 1 1/2 games back of Cleveland for the best record in the AL.
"There's some sense of urgency to finish it," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. "The guys know what's at stake. We have a lot of wins, so we've raised the bar pretty high. And we've been good with the type of lineup we can roll out. We feel good about the position we are in."
With the loss, the Mariners slipped below .500 (74-75) and are now 3 1/2 games behind the Twins in the chase for the AL's second Wild Card spot. Seattle, which hasn't made the postseason since 2001, is now 5-13 against Houston this season.
Jean Segura's leadoff home run in the sixth accounted for Seattle's lone run off Keuchel, who improved to 13-4 with a 2.96 ERA after allowing four hits over his six innings.
The Mariners rallied with four runs in the eighth, with Robinson Cano's bases-loaded two-run single followed by RBI base hits from Nelson Cruz and Kyle Seager cutting the lead to 7-5.
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But Joe Musgrove came out of the bullpen to retire the next three batters and the Astros tacked on an insurance run in the bottom of the inning before Musgrove closed out the ninth, though only after Mitch Haniger's 13th homer of the season narrowed the margin.
"Our guys really hung in and competed until the end," said Mariners manager Scott Servais. "Our hole was just too big, and we couldn't get out of it."
Mariners starter Erasmo Ramirez took the loss, surrendering six runs on eight hits and three walks over four-plus innings. He's now 1-3 with a 4.22 ERA in nine starts since being acquired by Seattle from the Rays on July 28.
"I was behind a lot in counts, and pitches were hanging," said Ramirez. "But the season isn't over yet. We still have more games to go and opportunities, so we have to be ready for the next one."
Carlos Beltran went 3-for-4 with a double and two RBIs for the Astros, George Springer had two hits and two RBIs, and Jose Altuve went 2-for-4 with a walk to hike his AL-leading average to .348.
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MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Two-out trouble: Ramirez has been solid in the Mariners' rotation, allowing just 10 runs over his previous six starts, but he gave up four runs with two out in the second. Derek Fisher hugged a run-scoring double just down the third-base line, Springer followed with a two-run single to center and Josh Reddick capped things off with an RBI double over left fielder Taylor Motter's head. All that damage might have been avoided had Ramirez gotten the first out of the inning when Beltran laced a hard ground ball that deflected off first base, directly to Cano. But Ramirez dropped a hard throw from Cano that arrived simultaneously at first with Beltran, whose infield single wound up sparking the entire rally.
"[Beltran has] put some good swings on the ball recently and not gotten the hits," Hinch said. "Maybe his luck turned when he hit the ball off the [first-base] bag. A sure sign things are turning for him. And he added a couple more base hits."
No Motter: Keuchel got in -- and out of -- hot water in a hurry in the fifth inning when he loaded the bases with one out by walking Danny Valencia and Carlos Ruiz around a single by Guillermo Heredia. But Keuchel got No. 9 hitter Motter on a comebacker to the mound, threw home for the force and pumped his fist as catcher Brian McCann fired to first for the 1-2-3 double play.
"Keuchel was really good with the sinker and a lot of ground balls today," said Servais. "Our guys worked some good at-bats that inning and we had the bases loaded, but the 1-2-3 double play, he's a very good fielder, and he handled it flawlessly. You're only going to get limited chances against him. We had one there and didn't cash in."
"I haven't been as consistent as I need to be, but a lot of it is my undoing," Keuchel said. "I still need to get my slider to the point where it used to be. Today I put some pressure on myself, loading the bases with two walks."
"He's had five or six days off and felt really good. He wanted to get back out there. [Pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre Jr.] said he's got the life back in his arm. Good to get him out there. We'll use him and keep him fresh, keep him going. If we do need to start him, we can. Or we can bring him out of the bullpen." -- Servais, on using former starter Ariel Miranda for a scoreless sixth inning in his first appearance in relief
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
Beltran's RBI double in the seventh was the 1,078th extra-base hit of his career, tying him for 24th all-time with Cal Ripken Jr.
Mariners:Andrew Moore (1-3, 5.36 ERA) moves back into the rotation in place of Miranda for Sunday's 11:10 a.m. PT series finale against the Astros. The 23-year-old rookie has allowed just four hits and three runs in 12 innings in two September appearances.
Astros: Verlander will go for the clincher in his Astros home debut and his third start for Houston (1:10 p.m. CT) after recently being acquired from Detroit. In his previous outing, he allowed only one hit over eight shutout innings in beating the Angels, 1-0.
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Greg Johns has covered the Mariners since 1997, and for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter [
Richard Dean is a contributor to MLB.com based in Houston.