In recent even-numbered years, the Seattle Mariners have made a habit of staying in postseason contention until the final week of the regular season before in typical M’s fashion, falling short. They took the wild-card race to Game 162 in 2014 and the penultimate day of the season in 2016 before simply being in the wrong division in 2018, as they were left on the outside looking in despite a stellar 89-73 campaign.
And here we are in 2020, with the Mariners entering Tuesday’s contest at 24-30 yet nipping at the heels of the Astros, who came into the game in second place and leading third-place Seattle by three games in the standings. With the shortened season and expanded postseason, anything can happen, and simply put, Houston needed to get back on the accelerator after an uninspired performance on Monday.
Despite a lackadaisical first five innings, the Astros bats kicked it into gear against the Seattle bullpen and wound up with a 6-1 victory at T-Mobile Field.
Framber Valdez was quite good in his tenth start of the season, limiting the M’s to a run on five knocks over seven frames. He had a lead when he took the mound thanks to a trio of singles in the top of the first - the last off the bat of Kyle Tucker for the game’s first run. Seattle answered quickly though, tying the contest at a run when Kyle Seager doubled off the right-field wall to bring home J.P. Crawford.
A gut check moment for Valdez came in the fourth, when he allowed back-to-back one out singles. He punched out the dangerous Evan White before coaxing Tim Lopes to ground out and escape the jam.
Mariners rookie starter Ljay Newsome was nearly just as effective, working 4.1 innings of one-run ball. Michael Brantley provided a big swing to lead off the sixth inning when he launched the second pitch from Casey Sadler over the wall in right-center for his fifth long ball of the year, giving the Astros a 2-1 lead.
Uncle Mike got us going! #ForTheH pic.twitter.com/ESROFl512H— Houston Astros (@astros) September 23, 2020
The advantage soon became two runs thanks to a base hit and stolen base from Tucker, followed by two wild pitches by Sadler. After a walk, Brandon Brennan replaced Sadler on the mound, but did it matter? Martin Maldonado continued to torture Seattle with an emphatic three-run shot to left-center, sealed with a bat flip. The bomb capped a five-run inning and Maldonado has now driven in half of his 24 runs this year against the M’s.
Big swings lead to big innings! #ForTheH pic.twitter.com/HNcJFSsw2h— Houston Astros (@astros) September 23, 2020
Valdez ended his outing with a bang, retiring the side in order on seven pitches after the offensive outburst in the sixth and then striking out Tim Lopez, Jake Fraley and Philip Ervin in succession after the seventh. He finished the evening with eight punchouts.
Trouble with the curve. #ForTheH pic.twitter.com/GMZC9B95eA— Houston Astros (@astros) September 23, 2020
Offensively, Tucker led the way with a four-hit night. He continued his remarkable surge, from a .193 average on Aug. 18 to currently sitting at .276 and a consistent force in the middle of the Astros lineup. Alex Bregman finished with a pair of singles and a walk as he rebounded from an 0-for-4 in the series opener.
The bullpen was rock solid as Enoli Paredes and Josh James combined to face the minimum over the final two frames.
Houston now has a four-game lead and a magic number of one over Seattle for second place with five contests remaining, including the rubber match at T-Mobile Park on Wednesday at 5:40 p.m. CT. Zack Greinke (3-2, 3.90) will look for his first road victory against Mariners southpaw Nick Margevicius (1-3, 5.35).