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Cruz powers Mariners' offensive outburst in win

Seattle's designated hitter hits 36th home run of the season
MLB.com @gregjohnsmlb

ANAHEIM -- The Mariners' postseason chances may be just about out of gas, but Nelson Cruz continues running on high octane.

The Seattle slugger ripped his 36th homer of the season in Thursday's 8-2 win over the Angels at Angel Stadium as the Mariners opened a 10-game road trip with a much-needed offensive outburst and a strong seven-inning start from Mike Leake.

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ANAHEIM -- The Mariners' postseason chances may be just about out of gas, but Nelson Cruz continues running on high octane.

The Seattle slugger ripped his 36th homer of the season in Thursday's 8-2 win over the Angels at Angel Stadium as the Mariners opened a 10-game road trip with a much-needed offensive outburst and a strong seven-inning start from Mike Leake.

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"We definitely needed something like this," Cruz said. "The offense was good, and Leake threw the ball amazing. Everything clicked today. It's not over yet. Anything can happen. We're behind, but we still have a lot to fight for, with the fans and your teammates."

Seattle ranks last in the American League in runs scored since the All-Star break, which is the primary reason the Mariners are 25-35 since July 5 and 80-66 overall. With the A's six-game win streak getting snapped in Baltimore, the Mariners' victory over the Angels pulled them within 8 1/2 games of Oakland for the second AL Wild Card berth. But that's a near-impossible deficit to overcome with only 16 games remaining.

Video: SEA@LAA: Servais on Leake, win over Angels

Any combination of eight Oakland wins or Seattle losses will eliminate the Mariners, but they bought a little more time with Thursday's victory as Leake allowed four hits while improving to 10-9 with a 3.99 ERA.

Leake struck out five and walked one while throwing a season-high 114 pitches, with his lone run allowed coming on a solo homer by Justin Upton in the seventh. With a bullpen game coming Friday, the Mariners let Leake go, and he delivered.

Video: SEA@LAA: Leake throws seven innings of one-run ball

"I threw 120 pitches in college, so it's somewhat normal for me," Leake said. "But it was nice to see."

The Mariners gave Leake plenty of early cushion with their highest-scoring game since an 8-7 win in Oakland on Sept. 1.

"A lot of guys chipped in tonight," Mariners manager Scott Servais said. "We have not had that in quite a while. It was probably the best game we've played offensively since the beginning of our last road trip. It's very frustrating, because it's in there. We've seen it a game here or there, but you have to do it every night and keep grinding through it."

Video: SEA@LAA: Cano opens scoring with RBI single

The Angels had a bullpen game, using seven relievers to cover nine innings, and Seattle racked up 12 hits and seven walks while improving to 9-7 against their AL West rivals this season.

Cruz's homer off Noe Ramirez in the fourth pushed the Mariners' lead to 6-0 as he cleared Mike Trout and the center-field fence with a shot projected at 415 feet, per Statcast™. The 38-year-old designated hitter went 2-for-4 and was hit by a pitch.

"Nellie smoked that ball. It was in the air forever," Servais said. "You look up at the end of the year, the numbers he's got and what he's done, it's pretty awesome to watch every day."

Mitch Haniger went 2-for-4 with an RBI and two runs scored, with his leadoff double kick-starting a two-run first. Haniger has batted .318 with 22 extra-base hits and 23 runs in 31 games since moving into the top spot in the order.

Video: SEA@LAA: Haniger brings in Gamel with sacrifice fly

SOUND SMART
Cruz has 50 career home runs against the Angels, the second most by any player, as he passed Rafael Palmeiro on that list. Alex Rodriguez holds the record for homers vs. the Halos with 70. Eight of those homers for Cruz have come during his 65 at-bats against the Angels this year.

"Nellie has always swung the bat well against Anaheim, for whatever reason," Servais said. "Way back when he was with Texas, and he's continued it here in Seattle. He sees the ball good in this ballpark. There's really no ballpark that can hold him, but he gets good pitches and puts good swings on them."

"I've played a lot against them, that's probably why," Cruz said. "It's not like I come here thinking this is my favorite ballpark. It just happens."

YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
With Jean Segura sitting out his third straight game due to illness, Dee Gordon continued filling in at shortstop. The versatile 30-year-old made an excellent sliding stop on a 114-mph rocket up the middle hit by Shohei Ohtani in the fourth, then backhanded the ball to second baseman Robinson Cano for the forceout on Trout, helping Leake avoid trouble.

An inning earlier, Gordon made a nice play when he ranged to his right to field a grounder and throw out Taylor Ward at first for the first out of the third.

"Dee has played really well at shortstop," Servais said. "For a guy that never took a ground ball there in Spring Training -- he really didn't take any ground balls at all anywhere [while working in center field] -- then we moved him to second and now slide him over there. He enjoys being in the middle of the action, there is no question about it. He wants to be the centerpiece, the guy diving all over the field making those kinds of plays. And he has that ability to finish them."

Video: SEA@LAA: Gordon makes a smooth play in the hole

HE SAID IT
"You're going to get some action with Mike pitching. That can be a blessing or a curse, if you're not ready. Thank God I was ready. Mike was awesome. He was mixing the ball well, in, out, up, down. He was definitely good for us." -- Gordon, on Leake's ability to induce ground balls

UP NEXT
Scheduled starter James Paxton has been scratched from Friday's game due to a mild bout with pneumonia, with Servais saying he'll go with an unannounced reliever to open a bullpen game at 7:07 p.m. PT at Angel Stadium. Paxton didn't make the trip to Anaheim, but the Mariners are hopeful he'll return to the rotation this season. Right-hander Matt Shoemaker (2-0, 3.45 ERA) will be on the mound for the Halos.

Greg Johns has covered the Mariners since 1997, and for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB.

Seattle Mariners, Nelson Cruz