The Houston Astros are making it tough on opponents who hold out hope of running them down in the American League.
They are loaded with young, attacking, hungry up-and-comers ready to make believers out of everyone.
They have made a believer out of Seattle’s biggest star: Second baseman Robinson Cano.
“That is a team you are going to have to beat if you want to get untracked,” Cano said. “(They’re) the best team in the game. They did prove it today.”
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Seattle’s hot-hitting month of June stalled against Astros pitching this weekend, including a string of relievers Sunday.
Houston rallied from an early two-run hole to defeat the Mariners, 8-2, in front of 33,010 at Safeco Field.
The Astros have now won all three season series against Seattle, and eight of the 11 games. They lead the AL West by 13 games as the season nears the halfway point.
“We were playing really well coming into this series,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said. “The last couple of days, they just shut us down offensively.”
With maybe a little bit of outside help.
Astros starter Francis Martes was wild from the outset, walking four batters, and loading the bases in each of the first two innings.
Martes stranded them by striking out Kyle Seager and Mike Zunino to end the first inning.
He wasn’t so lucky in the second.
With two outs, Cano jumped on a fastball and lined it into the left-center gap for a two-run double, scoring Guillermo Heredia and Taylor Motter.
Right behind them was Mitch Haniger, who raced home and appeared to slide to the right of catcher Evan Gattis’ tag. Haniger, however, was called out by home-plate umpire Lance Barksdale.
Servais challenged the call, and when crew chief Angel Hernandez came out to say the call stood under review, he signaled it as safe with his hands.
A defeaning roar of cheers at Safeco Field immediately turned to boos after fans saw the Mariners coming out to play defense at the start of the third inning — instead of continuing to bat.
“Kind of a momentum play in the game,” Servais said. “We kind of had them against the ropes.”
Cano said he liked the team’s outlook better up 3-0, and slugger Nelson Cruz coming to the plate with a runner in scoring position.
“It might be a different game, you know,” Cano said. “They were going to call (reliever Michael) Feliz in, and it’s a different story when Nellie comes up as one of the best in that guys in that position (driving in runs) this year.”
Seattle starting pitcher Ariel Miranda deserved better than he got, going seven-plus innings. All four of the runs he gave up came in the fourth inning.
He surrendered a solo home run to George Springer that carried out deep to center field and cut the M’s lead to 2-1.
After Carlos Correa tied it 2-2 with an RBI double off the right-field wall, Yuli Gurriel broke the tie for good with his two-run shot into the upper deck in left field.
Both home runs came on 3-2 pitches.
“He left a couple of pitches up — one off-speed and one fastball,” Seattle catcher Mike Zunino said. “They ended up making us pay for it.”
After that, Houston’s bullpen locked it all down, starting with Feliz (two scoreless innings, no hits, four strikeouts), then Chris Devenski (2 2/3 scoreless innings, two strikeouts) and finally Will Harris (retired four consecutive hitters).
Servais certainly saw a ballclub in need of a break after playing 20 consecutive days. The Mariners are off Monday.
“We have busted our tails,” Servais said. “We are starting to get healthy, and we are in a good spot (at 39-39).”
PLAY OF THE GAME: Seattle could have continued a big second inning had Mitch Haniger been properly called safe on a close play at home plate. If he had, the M’s would have taken a 3-0 lead on Robinson Cano’s double. Instead, the inning ended, and the Astros scored the next eight runs.
PLUS: Except for one difficult fourth inning, left-hander Ariel Miranda (seven-plus innings, four runs) continues to give the team great pitching — and eat innings. ... Cano has 11 RBI over his past five games.
MINUS: The heart of Seattle’s order — Cano, Nelson Cruz and Kyle Seager — went 1-for-10 with three strikeouts Sunday. ... Left-hander James Pazos could only get two outs in the ninth inning, giving up four runs.
STAT PACK: Seattle has lost four home series this season, with two of them coming to Houston. The Astros are 29-9 on the road this season, best in the majors. ... Mariners right-hander Nick Vincent got the final two outs of the seventh inning, and now has a scoreless streak of 13 consecutive innings.
QUOTABLE: “The off day will be nice. Everyone can get off their feet for a day and relax.” — M’s catcher Mike Zunino.
SHORT HOPS: Neither first baseman Danny Valencia (wrist) nor outfielder Ben Gamel (groin) were available Sunday. Both should return Tuesday. ... Left-hander Drew Smyly came through his Saturday throwing session well, said Servais. ... As part of the organization’s 40-year anniversary celebration, former Mariners catcher Dan Wilson threw out the first pitch Sunday.
ON DECK: Seattle will have a much-welcomed off day Monday, then begin a two-game interleague series with Philadelphia starting Tuesday at Safeco Field. Left-hander James Paxton (5-2, 3.39 ERA) goes for the Mariners. Phillies ace Aaron Nola (4-5, 4.32) opposes him. First pitch is at 7:10 p.m.
The game will be televised live on Root Sports Northwest, and broadcast on 710-AM and the Mariners Radio Network.