HOUSTON -- James Paxton continued his mastery of the Astros, allowing six hits and one run with seven strikeouts in seven innings, as the Mariners took a series at Minute Maid Park with a 4-1 victory Wednesday afternoon.
Ben Gamel's two-run homer in the fourth inning put the Mariners ahead, 2-1, and was all the offense needed for Paxton (9-3), who improved to 2-0 in three starts this year against Houston, allowing one run in 20 innings.
"Paxton was outstanding today," said Mariners manager Scott Servais. "It's exactly what the doctor ordered. He was on top of his game. You started to see a little bit of his cutter come into play the last outing, and today it came into play big time."
The Mariners finished a 5-1 road trip heading into a four-game series against the Yankees beginning Thursday in Seattle, as they evened their record at 48-48, just 1 1/2 games back of the Yanks for the second American League Wild Card spot.
• Mariners' 5-1 trip puts them in thick of Wild Card race
Astros starter Charlie Morton (7-4) worked 6 2/3 innings and allowed four runs on six hits. Robinson Cano's bases-loaded fielder's choice in the sixth made it 3-1, and Mike Zunino ended Morton's day with an RBI double in the seventh to push the lead to 4-1.
"We swung the bats fairly well early and hit a couple of balls hard and didn't really push anything across, but he's really good," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said of Paxton. "His arm strength is at the top end of left-handed starters in the league. His breaking ball was good today, which is something that we knew was going to be tough on us if he could get it over for a strike."
• Keuchel eyes return to Astros after Saturday rehab start
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Ben's big blast: Morton retired the first nine batters he faced before Jean Segura led off the fourth with a single, setting the stage for Gamel to blast a two-run homer to right field to give Seattle the lead. The ball traveled 361 feet, according to Statcast™, with an exit velocity of 104 mph. That was his first home run since June 23 against the Astros at Safeco Field.
"My first at-bat I saw everything he had. He threw me a cutter, he threw me a curveball and he threw me a changeup. I was just looking for something elevated, got it and didn't miss it," said Gamel, who drove a 1-1 cutter into the seats in his second look at Morton.
Laser throw by Heredia: Just when the Astros had something brewing in the eighth after a leadoff single by George Springer, Mariners left fielder Guillermo Heredia saved the day. Heredia fielded a hard-hit single off the wall by Jose Altuve and threw out Springer at third base for the first out. After Yuli Gurriel reached on a Segura error, Nick Vincent struck out Evan Gattis and Marc Rzepczynski fanned Carlos Beltran to strand runners at first and third.
"Play of the game," said Servais. "Heredia gets the ball off the wall, he has a tremendous throwing arm, not just the velocity -- a lot of guys in this league can throw it hard from the outfield -- but he's so accurate, and that really is a separator."
"We got a little unlucky with the bounce right back into his glove and Springer runs into the out at third base," Hinch said. "You could see that play 100 times and probably 99.5 [percent of the time] it's not going to happen, but it happened this time. That's a tough out to give up. We still created an inning where we had the tying run at the plate." More >
"I didn't like it. I thought it was the definition of an interference slide. … We're going on my third year of not really understanding the interpretation of the slide rule. Check mark to 2017 as the year I hate it." -- Hinch, on Gamel's slide into Marwin Gonzalez at second base in the sixth
"He's obviously got swing-and-miss stuff and they're a free-swinging team. He's got enough stuff to miss bats and that's a good combination against those guys." -- Zunino, on Paxton's success against Houston
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
Gonzalez's double in the second inning stretched the Astros' streak of consecutive games with a double to 52, becoming the second-longest streak in Major League history. The 1996 Indians had a double in 75 consecutive games.
Edwin Diaz closed out the ninth for his 18th save for the Mariners, and five of those came in the past six days as he slammed the door on every Seattle win on the road trip.
Hinch unsuccessfully challenged a close play at first base in the sixth inning. Segura was called safe sliding headfirst into first base, but the Astros believed Morton's foot beat him to the bag. It was determined that the call would stand after the replay review.
Mariners:Felix Hernandez (5-3, 4.20 ERA) takes on the Yankees on Thursday at 7:10 p.m. PT as Seattle opens a 10-game homestand at Safeco Field. The veteran right-hander is 3-1 with a 3.72 ERA in five starts since coming off a two-month stint on the disabled list.
Astros: The Astros are off Thursday, and then Mike Fiers (6-4, 3.75 ERA) will take the mound Friday in Baltimore to open a three-game series against the Orioles at 6:05 p.m. CT at Camden Yards. He's 5-2 with a 2.50 ERA in his last nine starts.
Watch every out-of-market regular-season game live on MLB.TV.