April 17-- SEATTLE-In seasons past, they would lose this type of game for any number of reasons.
Either they would have not found a way to scratch out the winning run against an opposing pitcher who was dealing. Or, perhaps, a setup man or the closer would stumble late. It's what the Seattle Mariners had done against the Houston Astros far too many times in the recent past.
But on this particularly frigid Monday night at Safeco Field, this current version of the Mariners began the process of trying to stop history from repeating itself.
They found that way to eke out enough runs against Dallas Keuchel while their pitching made no missteps, and the team even sprinkled in some solid defensive plays as well.
Called on to close out a one-run lead, closer Edwin Diaz shrugged off a leadoff walk-something that might have bothered him in the past-and coolly secured a 2-1 victory over Houston. He left the tying run on second base and struck out the final two batters in dominant fashion.
Sure, it was only one victory against a team that has tormented them in the past, but it's a decent start. Especially after losing their last six games against the Astros in 2017.
"Good ballgame tonight," Seattle manager Scott Servais said of the 2-hour, 21-minute affair. "That's what you've got to do, you've got to play a clean game. We did tonight. We had some big hits late. Clean ballgame, good ballgame, very well pitched and you have to find a way to win it, and we got it done tonight."
The Mariners got a strong, if not ultra efficient, start from left-hander James Paxton, who pitched six innings, allowing one run on three hits with three walks and seven strikeouts to pick up his first victory this year.
"Pax was outstanding tonight, very, very aggressive," Servais said.
Paxton attacked hitters early and showed a willingness to throw inside against the all-right-handed hitting lineup Houston rolled out.
Because of Paxton's past success against the Astros, their hitters tried something different, inching closer and closer to the plate to try and take away the inside half and force him to the outside part of the plate.
"It was important to get some of the pitches inside and in those two-strike counts," Paxton said. "They were trying to make the outside of the plate the middle tonight."
It was so important that after the first inning when he felt he wasn't getting some inside fastballs for strikes, Paxton approached home plate umpire Brian Gorman and explained that the hitters were crowding the plate and when they jumped back on inside pitches they were still strikes. The little chat seemed to help.
"We started getting more of those pitches after that," Paxton said.
His only big mistake came against the first hitter.
In something that was completely unsurprising and mildly expected, George Springer led off the game with a home run.
Yes, if it feels like he's done that before, it's because he has ... five previous times against Seattle.
Springer worked a 3-1 count against Paxton and unleashed on a 95 mph fastball that missed its spot, launching a towering shot off the digital scoreboard in deep left-center. MLB Statcast measured the blast at 455 feet with an exit velocity of 114 mph.
"I didn't make a good pitch," Paxton said. "I was trying to go down and away, and it came back inside. I didn't execute my pitch. He's a good hitter and it went into his sweet spot."
Springer now has 19 career homers against the Mariners.
"Springer has a tendency to do that to us, especially in the first inning," Servais said.
But Paxton wouldn't allow another run. He allowed just two more hits the rest of the way-singles to Carlos Correa and Springer.
Paxton also benefitted from a pair of tough catches in right field from Mitch Haniger and a nice barehanded pickup and throw from Kyle Seager.
The Mariners setup men turned in solid outings. Nick Vincent and Juan Nicasio worked 1-2-3 frames in the seventh and eighth.
The Mariners did just enough against Keuchel, who tossed eight innings, allowing two runs on five hits with one walk and six strikeouts.
In the fourth, Nelson Cruz tied the game, hitting his first homer since his return from the disabled list, muscling a line drive just high enough to clear the wall in left field.
"He's always tough," Cruz said. "He always keeps the ball down. It's hard to do much damage, you have to wait for the right pitch."
Dee Gordon broke the 1-1 tie in the bottom of the sixth, taking advantage of an extreme outfield shift by the Astros. With David Freitas on second base-having led off with a hustling double-Gordon looped a soft liner into right where there was no Astros player in sight for a double.
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