HOUSTON — The cliché claims one of baseball’s many beauties is the game isn’t over until the final out.
Well, yes … most of the time.
But when Seattle Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon pulls Robinson Cano for a pinch-hitter in the seventh inning — Willie Bloomquist, to be precise — as happened Tuesday night, that pretty much means the game is over.
In this case, McClendon’s move amounted to a victory cigar. The Mariners had a 10-run lead at time before closing out a 13-2 thumping of the Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park.
“It’s a great feeling,” said Cano, whose two-run double ignited a seven-run burst with two outs in the sixth inning.
“As a team, you want everybody to contribute. You don’t want it to be only two or three guys. You want the whole team (involved). That’s what we’re doing lately.”
The Mariners blew open a close game in that decisive sixth by knocking out Houston starter Jarred Cosart (8-6) and brutalizing reliever Darin Downs.
“When everybody is going good like that,” third baseman Kyle Seager said, “it’s really nice. That becomes a lot of fun. It loosened up the game. It was really tight at that point. It felt good to blow it open there.”
All seven runs scored with two outs. The Mariners tied a franchise record with five doubles in the inning. All five came with two outs, but the biggest one was the first one.
It came from Cano.
The Mariners, leading 3-1, had runners at first and second when Cano worked the count full before he reached for a 94-mph fastball, which was up and away, and shot a hard grounder past third base for a two-run double.
“I thought he was going to come with something way inside,” Cano said. “They had a base open, and they had a lefty in the pen. I was going to look for something middle away, but I wanted to be ready for the one inside.”
That finished Cosart. In came Downs … and the Mariners simply feasted.
Seager, RBI double. Logan Morrison, RBI double. Mike Zunino, RBI double. Michael Saunders, RBI single. Dustin Ackley, RBI double.
The inning ended, finally, when Brad Miller flied out to deep right.
It marked the first time in franchise history the Mariners produced six consecutive two-out, run-scoring hits.
Oh, and they led 10-1.
“It gets contagious sometimes,” Ackley said. “Guys start taking good swings. Everybody is up there just relaxed. You start to get a good lead, and it just all runs together.”
Know this about Cosart and Downs:
Cosart entered the game as one of only three pitchers with seven victories since May 11. (The others: Felix Hernandez and Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw. That, there, is the highest-rent district.)
The Mariners jumped him for two quick runs in the first inning and six overall in 52/3 innings.
Downs had a 2.33 ERA when the night started. It was at 4.12 when the sixth inning ended.
All of this benefited Hisashi Iwakuma, who bounced back from two subpar starts and a rocky first inning by limiting the Astros to one run before handing a 12-1 lead to Dominic Leone in the seventh.
“We’re playing with a good momentum now,” Iwakuma said. “Being the pitcher for the day, you don’t want to stop that momentum.”
Iwakuma (6-4) gave up seven hits but all were singles in his six innings. He struck out seven and walked none. Leone and Brandon Maurer closed out the Mariners’ 12th victory in 16 games.
Bloomquist batted for Cano after the Mariners pushed their lead to 11-1 on James Jones’ RBI triple in the seventh inning. Jones scored on Bloomquist’s grounder to short.
The Mariners finished with a season-high 18 hits, including three by Jones, Seager and Ackley. Every starter had a least one hit.
Cano had an RBI single in first, which opened the scoring, in addition to his key, two-run double. Seager’s club-leading 13th homer, which came in the ninth, closed the scoring.
The 13 runs were also a season high and, combined with Monday’s 10-4 victory, marked the first time in more than two years that the Mariners reached double figures in consecutive games.
“It was just one of those nights when the bats came alive,” McClendon said. “I don’t want to overanalyze it.”
No need to. Pulling Cano in the seventh inning said it all.