In successive games, the Mariners have suffered losses to Houston's All-Star launch cups – Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole.
HOUSTON – Nelson Cruz would not give in and get himself out. In his younger years, he might have made such a mistake by overpowering adrenaline and the desire to deliver. But now, at the age of 38, such maturity does not exist in his approach.
"Nellie is old," Jean Segura said, laughing.
However, Cruz found himself in the unenviable position of beating down two blows on a pair of 96-mph fastballs from reliever Ryan Pressly on the first two pitches of his at-bat.
But with the bases loaded and one in the eighth inning of a tied game, a strikeout was an unacceptable result. The veteran, who was called a hitter, shook off the next three positions of Pressly, all with the intention of getting him to swing wild and miss.
Cruz served the count fully, forcing Pressly back into the prank zone. Cruz discipline was rewarded. He got a 96-mph fastball in the middle of the plate and was ready to hit a long fly ball off the wall in the deep left center. He scored two runs, which led to an eighth-inning with three starts. That was the difference in Seattle's 5-2 win over the Astros on Friday.
"They're trying to get him back to the zone," Cruz said. "I went tone by tone and tried to win every note."
He won these games and the Mariners won for the second time in a row at Minute Maid Park, improving to 67:50 this season.
"We came here and wanted to play better games, and that's exactly what we did," said Scott Servais, the Seattle manager. "We're playing better baseball right now, and the top of the lineup really did swing the bat."
In successive games, the Mariners have withstood losses to Houston's All-Star pitchers – Justin Verlander on Thursday and Gerrit Cole on Friday.
"It's a challenge," said Mitch Haniger. "But those are the types of weapons you'll be playing in the playoffs, and that's where we want to be, that's the goal."
Cruz loathes talking about his performances. He was more concerned about Segura's comments.
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"He said I'm old?" Cruz said. "I look younger than him."
Maybe the better word will be learned. And that was an experienced thug from a proven racket.
"These are your veterans – do not panic," Servais said. "Nellie has been in this position so many times in his career, Pressly has really good stuff and he (Cruz) went into the countdown, but do not panic, you try to work at some points and get into a position where you have one And he did it and he did not miss it. "
The eighth-inning rally began with the redesigned top position of the Mariners. With one out, Haniger, who scored the opening goal in all two games, dodged his second double of the game from a tiring Cole and fired a shot from the front of the Crawford Boxes in the left field. Denard Span followed with a single in the middle and put the runners on the corners. It forced Houston manager A.J. Hinch, to call his bullpen and bring in Pressly, which was acquired by the Twins at the close of trading.
In his very first lap, Pressly Segura hit the field with a fastball to load the bases and put Cruz on the plate. Segura had x-rays on hand after the game came back negative, but his status for Saturday is unknown.
"We'll see what it feels like tomorrow," he said.
After cruz double, Kyle Seager took another ground-ball to the second.
The lead in three runs was held by a scoreless eighth inning from Alex Colome, while Edwin Diaz scored his 44th save of the season with a 1-2-3 ninth, which included a pair of strikeouts.
Seattle became strong all evening, starting with starter Mike Leake, who delivered a commendable performance. The experienced right-hander struck six innings, allowing only two runs on eight hits with a walk and four strikeouts.
Leake kept the Astros goalless for the first four innings, with a big inning-end double-play to work from a traffic jam in the fourth.
"You have to work a bit less in this park than usual," he said. "I tried to approach them effectively and keep them honest, this double game was really big, I tried to get balls to Jean, and that's exactly what happened."
The Astros grabbed 2-0 in the fifth game. With two outs and runners in first and second place, Leake thought he had Tony Kemp hit a high fastball almost identical to the previously pitched home Plate referee Doug Eddings called Strike. On the next round of play Kemp threw a bottom ball in the middle to get the first run of the game. Alex Bregman scored the final score 2-0 and turned the wall in the left corner to replace Martin Maldonado.
The Mariners immediately responded to the hard-throwing Cole, who had puzzled and beaten her for the first five innings, allowing only one strike and knocking out five.
Cameron Maybin led the way with a crisp single and Dee Gordon took a rare walk to build the Mariners hottest hitter in recent days – Haniger. He smoked a double in the left corner to score Maybin. Span followed with an infield single that hit Gordon 2-2.
It looked as if the Mariners would take a two-lead at the time when Seager hit a sinking line drive into Center Field. Instead, Houston center fielder Jake Marisnick, who read a late-reading on the ball, locked the distance quickly and made a full lay-out dive and caught the ball just inches before hitting the outfield grass. It finished the inning and saved two runs.
Adam Warren scored a goalless seventh place despite allowing two base runners. He held on to the game and set up the Mariners' Rally in the eighth round.