HOUSTON -- The Mariners went with an "opener" for the first time on Wednesday and the idea worked so well, they closed out their season series with a 9-0 victory over the Astros.With James Paxton still sidelined following a bout of pneumonia, manager Scott Servais opted for a bullpen day,
HOUSTON -- The Mariners went with an "opener" for the first time on Wednesday and the idea worked so well, they closed out their season series with a 9-0 victory over the Astros.
With James Paxton still sidelined following a bout of pneumonia, manager Scott Servais opted for a bullpen day, started with one scoreless inning from rookie reliever Matt Festa and followed by a parade of six relievers who held Houston to five hits in the combined shutout.
Seattle's offense opened up as well, as home runs by Kyle Seager, Mitch Haniger and Guillermo Heredia led an 11-hit attack and the Mariners' highest-scoring output since a 14-10 loss at Boston on June 22.
The nine-run winning margin was the biggest of the season for a Seattle squad that has specialized in close wins and still has a run differential of minus-38 despite being 16 games over .500.
The Mariners have seen their playoff hopes fade in a disappointing second half, but they proved plenty competitive against the defending World Series champion Astros, winning the season series, 10-9, after going 20-37 against Houston over the previous three years.
"That's a good ballclub over there, with good arms and a good lineup," Haniger said. "We always want to play them tough. We feel like we match up well with them and are in every game. Any team we play, we're trying to win and take the series. But it's always good beating them; they're the defending world champs, and it just speaks to what we've got in this clubhouse."
The Mariners are 5-2 on their 10-game road trip and head to Texas 84-68 overall with 10 games remaining, though their Wild Card elimination number (any combination of Oakland wins or Seattle losses) is down to four after the A's defeated the Angels on Wednesday night.
Robinson Cano went 3-for-4 with two doubles and three RBIs to lift his average to .290, while Haniger continued his excellent run in the leadoff spot with a 2-for-3 night with three runs scored. He's hit .333 with 15 doubles, eight homers and 28 runs in 37 games since moving to the top of the order.
Festa, a 25-year-old who spent most of the year with Double-A Arkansas, retired the Astros in order in the first. Casey Lawrence wound up credited with the win after throwing three innings of one-hit ball. None of Seattle's seven pitchers was with the club when the season started.
"To throw nine zeros up there, it's hard to do, certainly against this team in this ballpark," Servais said. "But our guys were really sharp tonight. A few hadn't pitched in a long, long time, and they went out there and threw strikes and got soft contact early in the count, and it was a great result tonight."
Festa hadn't started a game at any level since a spot start two years ago for Class A Advanced Modesto. Servais pulled him aside after Tuesday's game and told him he'd be first up in the finale.
"I got so excited, I almost hugged him," Festa said. "I called my family, called by brothers, called my best friends. My phone was blowing up. Everybody was saying, 'You're starting, you're starting.' Well, I'm opening, but it was going to be exciting either way."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
The Mariners scored three runs off Dallas Keuchel in the first inning, included one that was literally "off" the former AL Cy Young Award winner, as Seager ripped a 99-mph line drive that deflected off Keuchel's head and into shallow right field. Keuchel shrugged off that glancing blow and stayed in the game, retiring the next 12 batters, but that RBI single was the fourth hit of the frame and gave Seattle a quick 3-0 lead.
"Nobody likes that stuff," said Seager. "Luckily, he was fine. He didn't even come out of the game. Thankfully, he's all right, but that's scary. I don't like that. When I saw the ball going back at him, I couldn't tell if his glove touched it first or not, but I could definitely see it hit him in the head. You could kind of hear the thud a little. It was terrible. Thankfully, he was OK. He went five innings, so he was good."
"I had a few concussions in high school from football and stuff, and I immediately knew how I was going to feel," Keuchel said. "I felt fine. ... We talked some stuff over and I really told them I was fine, and to give me a few pitches. I wasn't going to push it by any means if I was groggy or lightheaded. Everything checked out well."
Cano's two doubles give him four in the past two games as he continues rising up MLB's all-time list. The veteran second baseman has 532 in his 14-year career, just two shy of Lou Gehrig for 40th place.
YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
Haniger has seemingly done it all for Seattle of late, and the All-Star right fielder showed off his sliding skills again with an athletic swim move to get around catcher Martin Maldonado for a run in the fifth. Haniger scored from first on Cano's double into the gap in left-center, sliding around Maldonado and diving back to touch the plate before Maldonado could tag him.
"I couldn't get my hand in, and then I kind of waited. I'm assuming he thought I got in there, so luckily I snuck back in," Haniger said. "I knew I hadn't touched it, so I had to go back. If I'd have went in with my hand and tried to swipe the plate, I think he'd have got me. So I just tried to maneuver around him."
• Haniger used an 80-grade swim slide to avoid being tagged
"What an unbelievable slide," Servais said. "It's some kind of athlete he is to make the adjustments and get around the tag. He hits a home run again. He's done it as consistently as any player I've seen since I've been here, the entire year. He's been really fun to watch."
HE SAID IT
"We've played well here all year. Our guys enjoy coming in here, they swing the bats well here. I think a few of our guys get energized here for whatever reason. It might be the fact they won the World Series last year and they certainly had our number here in the past. One of our goals was to play better against them, and we certainly have. It's nice coming in here and beating them, no doubt." -- Servais, on the Mariners going 7-2 at Minute Maid Park this season
Erasmo Ramirez (2-3, 5.65 ERA) gets the start in Friday's 5:05 p.m. PT game in Arlington as Seattle opens its final road series of the season. The 28-year-old right-hander is 2-1 with a 4.32 ERA in seven starts since returning from the DL. The Rangers will counter with an "opener" in right-hander Connor Sadzeck, a rookie who has thrown 6 1/3 scoreless innings in eight appearances, before turning things over to previously scheduled starter Ariel Jurado (3-5, 7.01).
Greg Johns has covered the Mariners since 1997, and for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB.