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Mariners rock Keuchel, stretch AL West lead

Seager's homer in 4-run 1st inning sets tone in series opener
MLB.com @alysonfooter

HOUSTON -- The Mariners, no strangers to playoff races, know it is entirely too early to start congratulating themselves on any long-term accomplishments they're hoping to complete this season.

But they also are well-aware of where they are this week, and who they're playing, and how much of a mental boost beating the Astros can give them as they enter a challenging part of their schedule.

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HOUSTON -- The Mariners, no strangers to playoff races, know it is entirely too early to start congratulating themselves on any long-term accomplishments they're hoping to complete this season.

But they also are well-aware of where they are this week, and who they're playing, and how much of a mental boost beating the Astros can give them as they enter a challenging part of their schedule.

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The Mariners' 7-1 win on Tuesday night at Minute Maid Park accomplished two things. It padded their slim lead over the Astros in a tight American League West race to two games, and it extended their winning streak to five.

"It's a nice way to start the road trip," manager Scott Servais said. "Guys come out, make a statement tonight. We're swinging the bats good and hopefully it continues."

Seattle came out swinging against left-hander Dallas Keuchel, who entered this start having allowed, cumulatively, nine earned runs in the first inning of his 12 starts this season, for a 6.75 ERA.

The Mariners added to that total, plating four runs in the first, including a three-run homer by Kyle Seager. Catcher Mike Zunino, batting in the nine-hole, launched a two-run homer off Keuchel in the second, and Jean Segura, who is hitting .412 since May 9, knocked a solo shot off Keuchel in the fifth to give Seattle a 7-1 advantage.

Video: SEA@HOU: Segura cranks solo homer into orbit

That gave lefty starter James Paxton plenty to work with. He yielded just one run and nine hits over 7 2/3 innings.

"It's definitely big," Seager said. "It's big to jump on anyone early in the game, but especially you know what their offense is capable of, it's nice to give Paxton some wiggle room and take care of the rest."

Prior to this game, the Mariners had not had a lot of success against Keuchel, a former AL Cy Young Award winner. Keuchel threw a complete game in Seattle in a losing effort in April, and, before Tuesday, he had thrown six straight quality starts against the Mariners, compiling a 1.94 ERA.

"There's not necessarily any added approach than in years past," Seager said. "We know he's got a lot of movement and he's got the good stuff. Especially the fastball, he's got a lot of sink on it. It's the same approach we've had in years past and today it worked out better than it has in the past."

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Seattle can leave town with a three-game advantage in the division with a win in the series finale on Wednesday. Tuesday's win pushed the Mariners (38-22) to 16 games over .500, matching their high-water mark from 11 years ago, when they were 73-57 after game No. 130 in 2007.

Through 60 games last year, the Mariners were 12 games back in a division the Astros ended up winning by 21 games. Now, Seattle is the team being chased.

Video: SEA@HOU: Zunino demolishes 2-run homer down the line

"For us, the message was we need to continue to play our brand of baseball," Zunino said. "Obviously, we know how good Houston is and we know what they march out there -- their starting pitching and their lineup. We just wanted to go out there, catch the ball, pitch how we have been and put together good at-bats. The more often we can do that, the better we'll be."

MOMENT THAT MATTERED
Paxton, who turned to his two-seamer later in the game after the Astros were catching up to the four-seamer early, induced double plays to end three consecutive innings in the fifth, sixth and seventh. That allowed him to work into the eighth inning with a manageable pitch count. He threw 108 overall.

Video: SEA@HOU: Paxton K's 6 over 7 2/3 frames of 1-run ball

"That was beautiful," Paxton said. "I loved the double plays tonight. That was big tonight, getting those ground balls and the boys making the plays behind me."

"Pitchers best friend -- they say that for a reason," Servais said. "We played well defensively, we have for quite a stretch now. Keeping the pitch count in check allows him to get deeper in the games. They're huge."

YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
Seager's homer was hit at 95 mph with a 29-degree launch angle, according to Statcast™. Similar batted balls have been homers just nine percent of the time. It traveled only a projected 337 feet and landed in the left-field Crawford Boxes, an area known for its short porch.

"This is definitely one of the few places where I thought it had a chance," Seager said. "I hit it good, but I don't hit a lot of home runs that way. I was definitely excited that one got out. I didn't see where it ended up, but i'll take it. I'm not giving it back."

HE SAID IT
"We're prepared. We were ready to play tonight. I think people that followed us closely the last month, month and a half, it's a little bit different ballclub than it had in the past. Guys are really relaxed, they're excited, they're having fun, they can't wait to get to the field, they can't wait for the game to start. It's a different guy all the time. It's not just one guy directing the train. It's a collective group, and it's a lot of fun." -- Servais, on the Mariners' recent success

UP NEXT
Left-hander Wade LeBlanc (1-0, 2.60 ERA) will make his sixth start at 5:10 p.m. PT on Wednesday as the Mariners conclude a short two-game set against the Astros at Minute Maid Park. He will be opposed by righty Lance McCullers Jr. As a starter, LeBlanc has allowed just six earned runs, boasting a 1.72 ERA. Seattle is in a long stretch of away games and will play 15 of its next 22 and 21 of the final 37 games before the All-Star break on the road.

Alyson Footer is a national correspondent for MLB.com. Follow her on Twitter @alysonfooter.

Seattle Mariners, James Paxton, Kyle Seager, Jean Segura, Mike Zunino