HOUSTON -- A Mariners team that knew it had to get hot coming out of the All-Star break in order to have a chance took a huge first step in that direction by completing a 5-1 road trip on Wednesday and now sets its sights directly on the Yankees team ahead of it in the American League Wild Card race.
Seattle beat the Astros, 4-1, to win its first series against the American League West leaders this season. On the heels of a three-game sweep against the White Sox, the Mariners suddenly have some serious momentum after climbing back to .500 at 48-48 as they return home for a 10-game homestand against the Yankees, Red Sox and Mets.
"This was a big series for us and a big road trip, to take five out of six," said James Paxton, who shut down the Astros on one run over seven innings. "That's awesome coming out of the break. We just have to keep it going here and keep ourselves in this race.
"Everyone is fired up. We're all ready to fight for this season. We believe we can do that and be right there at the end."
Manager Scott Servais told his club it needed to refocus on doing the little things over the All-Star break, cutting down on baserunning mistakes, playing good defense, advancing runners and staying sharp.
And his club responded with some of its best baseball of the season, giving general manager Jerry Dipoto even more reason to look to upgrade the pitching prior to the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline as the Mariners clearly have a legitimate shot at their first postseason appearance since 2001.
"For us coming out of the break and starting out like this is huge," said catcher Mike Zunino. "We were recharged and everyone was all in on making a second-half push. Hopefully we can keep this going, keep guys healthy and make a run at this thing."
They'll do so starting Thursday against the Yankees with Felix Hernandez on the mound.
Outfielder Ben Gamel, who was traded by the Yankees to Seattle last August, insisted facing his former teammates will be "just another game." But he acknowledged the importance of the upcoming homestand and the way the Mariners have come out charging in the second half.
"Everyone has so much energy and is so excited to play," said Gamel, who homered in Wednesday's victory. "Everyone is having fun and doing their job and picking each other up. It's been a blast. Now we just have to keep things rolling. Our pitching has been awesome, our bullpen has been lights-out and we're swinging it. We just have to keep it going."