HOUSTON -- Charlie Morton isn't the biggest name in the Astros' rotation, but the 10-year veteran put his club on the verge of clinching the American League West crown on Friday night as Houston topped the Mariners, 5-2.Morton helped Houston reduce its magic number to two -- meaning any combination
HOUSTON -- Charlie Morton isn't the biggest name in the Astros' rotation, but the 10-year veteran put his club on the verge of clinching the American League West crown on Friday night as Houston topped the Mariners, 5-2.
Morton helped Houston reduce its magic number to two -- meaning any combination of Astros wins or Angels losses that equals two -- will have them popping the champagne at Minute Maid Park. The Angels edged the Rangers on Friday night.
"Our guys are aware," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. "We want to close this out as fast as possible for a lot of reasons. We know the magic number, we know that we control it. A win like tonight gets us that much closer."
The 33-year-old Morton allowed just one run on five hits with seven strikeouts over six innings, putting his record at 12-7 with a 3.75 ERA. And now the Astros come with former Cy Young Award winners Dallas Keuchel and Justin Verlander the next two days with a chance to clinch their first division title since 2001.
The Astros are 89-58 overall, a game and a half back of the Indians for the best record in the AL after the Indians had their 22-game win streak snapped by the Royals.
• American League standings
The Mariners dropped back to .500 at 74-74, though they remained 3 1/2 back of the Twins for the final AL Wild Card spot when Minnesota lost to Toronto.
Shortstop Jean Segura went 2-for-4 with a double and two RBIs for the Mariners, who saw their three-game win streak snapped. Seattle is 5-12 on the season against the Astros.
"This team has had our number the last four or five games," said Mariners manager Scott Servais, whose club was swept in a three-game series in Seattle by the Astros two weeks ago. "We have to get over the hump against them and it's going to take the big hit, somebody getting a big double with a couple guys on to kind of bust it open and let the guys relax a little bit."
Mariners lefty James Paxton, coming off the disabled list (pectoral injury) and making his first start since Aug. 10, gave up four hits and three runs in 1 1/3 innings to take the loss. Paxton had three walks and two wild pitches in a 50-pitch outing as he fell to 12-4 with a 2.98 ERA.
• Paxton struggles in first start back
Paxton said he felt fine physically, but his delivery was out of sync, though he's confident it can be fixed before his next outing.
"It's unfortunate it happened now because these are really important games," Paxton said. "But hopefully it's something I can fix quickly so next time out I can help the team do what we're trying to do."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Correa comes through: Paxton had already given up a walk, wild pitch and one-out RBI single to Jose Altuve when Carlos Correa ripped a 109.9-mph line drive to straightaway center in Houston's three-run first. Mariners center fielder Guillermo Heredia headed back and looked like he might have a play, but couldn't get his glove on the ball as it's velocity seemed to catch him by surprise. Correa wound up with an RBI double and scored Houston's third run on a bloop single by Evan Gattis. Correa came into the game hitting just .182 (8-for-44) since returning from a six-week absence with torn ligaments in his thumb, but went 2-for-4 with just his second extra-base hit since coming off the DL.
"We scored four runs over the first three innings. That was huge," Correa said. "It gave Charlie [Morton] a comfortable lead and he does what he does best and he shut them down." More >>
Rally killers: Morton's only run allowed came in the fifth when he gave up one-out singles to Ben Gamel and Guillermo Heredia, then threw wide of second on a potential double-play comebacker by Segura that allowed Gamel to score on what was ruled a fielder's choice and throwing error. But Morton put a quick end to Seattle's comeback hopes by getting Mitch Haniger on an inning-ending double play grounder. And after Robinson Cano led off the sixth with a single, he squashed any thoughts of trouble there with another double-play grounder by Nelson Cruz.
"He got the couple big double plays in the fifth and sixth," said Servais. "I thought we had pressure on him there. He's had a good season and certainly pitched well in this ballpark for them. He keeps the ball at the bottom of the strike zone. He's a ground ball guy. He controlled Cruz and [Kyle Seager] tonight and we just didn't get much going."
"I felt off. I felt like I went to throw and there was nothing there. But I didn't know what the problem was out there. It's hard to fix something like that in game while you're trying to get guys out." -- Paxton on his mechanical issue
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
Houston improved to 12-5 over Seattle in 2017 and is 43-25 (.642) against the AL West this season. The Astros last posted a winning percentage this high against their division in 1998, going 38-18 (.679) against the NL Central.
Mariners:Erasmo Ramirez (5-5, 4.25 ERA) makes his ninth start since being acquired from the Rays in Saturday's 10:05 a.m. PT game, which has been moved up from its original start time and is now a national FOX broadcast. Ramirez is 1-1 with a 2.45 ERA over his last six starts.
Astros: Keuchel is 2-0 this season against the Mariners and won in Seattle in his previous start against them. First pitch is set for 12:05 p.m. CT.
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Greg Johns has covered the Mariners since 1997, and for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB.
Richard Dean is a contributor to MLB.com based in Houston.