SEATTLE — Here’s that “game of inches” cliché come to life … and coming to life to the Mariners’ benefit Thursday night in a 3-1 victory over the Houston Astros at Safeco Field.
Michael Saunders barely beat Houston reliever Tony Sipp to first base on a two-out grounder to first with the bases loaded and the score tied in the seventh inning. The result was a two-run single.
It required the replays be set to super slow-motion to confirm Eric Cooper’s “safe” call. But those replays were clear: Saunders slid his toe to the base before Sipp slammed down with his foot.
“I knew if I lifted my foot,” Saunders said, “I wasn’t going to be safe. I just tried to slide (my foot). I wasn’t even sure if I was going to reach the base or not. But it worked out.”
The Condor spread his wings as he crossed the base.
“I knew I was safe,” he said.
The play resulted in two runs because Stefen Romero broke from second on the 3-2 pitch and never slowed after rounding third base.
“I knew it was going to be a close play at first,” Romero said. “It turned out to be a foot race. I knew that was, potentially, the third out. So I just kept running.
“Fortunately, they called him safe, and I was already touching home.”
When Yoervis Medina and Fernando Rodney protected that two-run margin over the final two innings, rookie Dominic Leone (1-0) had his first big-league victory and the Mariners were back to .500 at 23-23.
“That (first W) may have run through my mind,” Leone said. “At the same time, I was pretty amped up in the moment with Saunders beating that out.”
Not a bad way to open the season’s longest homestand.
Houston starter Jarred Cosart (3-4) allowed one run in the first inning but nothing more until the seventh, which began with singles by Dustin Ackley and Romero.
A wild pitch moved the runners to second and third before a walk to Nick Franklin loaded the base with no outs.
Cosart struck out Mike Zunino before Houston went to the bullpen for Sipp to get a left-on-left matchup against James Jones, but the Mariners countered by sending up Cole Gillespie.
Gillespie popped a 3-1 pitch to first before Saunders hit a slow chop to first and beat Sipp to the base.
“(First baseman Jesus Guzman) fielded the ball cleanly,” Astros manager Bo Porter said. “The pitcher was there in plenty of time, and (Guzman) should have given him the ball. It’s two runs that come off the board.”
Even so, it was close and, given the circumstances, the Astros challenged. So while the Mariners’ bench erupted when Cooper signaled safe, everyone had to wait out a replay review.
“Those plays are bang-bang,” manager Lloyd McClendon said. “You just don’t know. We haven’t had many of them our way lately, so you’re a little nervous.”
Leone said: “We all went nuts in the dugout. After that, we were waiting for the replay. Just looking up at the board and (wondering), ‘Did he get it?’ Sure enough. They showed it, and he got it.”
Both runs in the inning were charged to Cosart.
“Off the bat,” Saunders said, “I hit it so soft that I knew I had a possible chance. I saw the pitcher broke off the mound a little bit late. From that point on, I knew it was a foot race.”
Mariners starter Roenis Elias battled buckets of trouble through the early innings but yielded only one run — Jose Altuve’s homer on the game’s first pitch — before exiting after a one-out walk in the sixth,.
“He really didn’t have command of any of his pitches for the most part,” McClendon said. “He kind of settled down a little bit in the fifth. His stuff is quality stuff. He just didn’t have command.”
Leone replaced Elias, who threw 100 pitches, and struck out the next two hitters. Elias allowed only three hits but walked four and struck out six in 5 1/3 innings.
Leone retired the first two hitters in the seventh, but Altuve lined a two-out single to right and stole second. But Leone ended the inning when Dexter Fowler grounded to second.
That positioned Leone for the victory when the Mariners scored twice in the seventh inning.
“Ackley did an incredible job leading off the inning,” Saunders said. “Then Romo, and Franklin worked a nice walk. Those are the guys who really set up the inning. All I did was hit the ball soft and run.”