OK, deep breath. Hold and release. The Mariners flashed a pulse again Monday in their home opener by dispatching Houston 6-0 at Safeco Field behind a balanced attack and a dominating James Paxton.
It marked the hoped-for response after Sunday’s flat-line seizure at Anaheim, when they blew a six-run lead in the ninth inning. The patient is stabilized. Not out of the woods, maybe. But better.
"It was a tough (1-6) road trip," Paxton acknowledged. "We didn’t play very well. Especially coming off of (Sunday). That was tough. Coming into today, I knew it was big to get us back on the right foot.
"We did what we we needed to do. We won the ballgame and, hopefully, that can turn things around for us."
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Monday’s turnaround started with Paxton, who worked seven often-overpowering innings. He permitted just four hits, all singles while striking out eight and walking two in a 103-pitch performance.
"Well, his power…it’s not just us," said Astros manger A.J. Hinch, whose club overcame six shutout innings from Paxton on April 5 at Houston by rallying for a 5-3 victory in 13 innings.
"I think he’s going to give the whole league a hard time if he has that kind of power and that kind of ability with his breaking ball."
The Mariners’ bats came to life, too, for a second straight game, albeit somewhat belatedly, after a mostly quiet first week.
After leaving the bases loaded with no outs in the fourth inning against Houston starter Charlie Morton, the Mariners got a big two-run single from Nelson Cruz (VIDEO LINK) in a three-run fifth inning.
The Mariners scored two more runs in the sixth (VIDEO LINK) and one more in the seventh as the mustered an 11-hit attack that included contributions from seven players.
"Like I said (Sunday)," Cruz said, "we were going to see what we’re made of as a team. We showed a lot of character today in getting that W. And, hopefully, it looks like all of the bats are awake. That’s a good sign."
Paxton previously said he wanted to feed off the crowd’s energy, but it might have been just the opposite — particularly when the Astros stirred to life in the seventh inning.
Carlos Correa grounded a single of the glove of third baseman Kyle Seager, and Carlos Beltran followed with a single to left. The crowd grew quiet — perhaps, recalling of Sunday’s collapse.
Paxton responded by retiring the next three batters and received a standing ovation as he left the field.
"It’s tough facing the same team twice within a week," catcher Mike Zunino said. "He had the cutter, and he threw a two-seam today that had some great run to it. Those two mixed with his breaking ball were great."
That was all fine, but the Mariners got a strong start Sunday at Anaheim when Hisashi Iwakuma limited the Angels to one run in six innings. It was the bullpen that imploded in a 10-9 loss.
There were anxious moments Monday when the Astros loaded the bases with one out in the eighth inning against Dan Altavilla on two hits and a walk.
Not this time. Altavilla struck out Correa, on a borderline call (VIDEO LINK), before stranding all three runners when Beltran fouled out. No problems in the ninth inning, either. Evan Scribner closed out the victory without incident.
"When it was 6-0 and the bases were loaded," manager Scott Servais admitted, "there’s a few things going through my mind — and everybody’s mind. But you’ve got to keep grinding.
"What happened (Sunday), we can’t fix that."
While Paxton was strong throughout his seven innings, the Mariners took a while to get going.
That missed chance in the fourth, when Danny Valencia and Leonys Martin struck out with the bases loaded, brought loud boos from the crowd of 44,856.
Jarrod Dyson opened the three-run fifth inning with a double past first, but he was cut down at third base when he tried to advance on Taylor Motter’s grounder to short.
But the Mariners kept coming.
Mitch Haniger followed with a line-hugging double past third that put runners at second and third with one out, which then prompted an intentional walk to Robinson Cano.
Cruz burned the strategy, after laying off two pitches out of the strike zone, by whacking a two-run single into center field. Kyle Seager followed with a sacrifice fly to deep right for a 3-0 lead.
PLAY OF THE GAME: Beltran was at first base in the Houston second inning when Evan Gattis swung through a third strike. The ball got away from Zunino, but Gattis was out as long as Beltran simply held first.
Instead, Beltran broke for second (VIDEO LINK) in a slow trot. Zunino simply threw to Cano, and the Mariners trapped Beltran for the third out.
PLUS: Altavilla has not allowed a run in his last 15 appearances dating to last season…Cruz’s two-run single in the fifth reversed the momentum after the Mariners wasted that bases-loaded threat with no outs in the fourth…Haniger had a two-out RBI single in the sixth…Seager had two hits and a sacrifice fly in four plate appearances…Scribner bounced back with a nine-pitch ninth inning. He gave up Mike Trout’s tie-breaking homer Saturday in a 5-4 loss to the Angels.
MINUS: Shortstop Jean Segura left the game in the fourth inning because of what the Mariners characterized as a mild strain to his right hamstring. It isn’t believed to be serious, but the Mariners should know more when Segura arrives Tuesday…The at-bats by Valencia and Martin in the fourth inning, — strikeouts with the bases loaded on pitches not close to the strike zone — were suboptimal. Martin rebounded in his next at-bat by battling through 12 pitches before getting a single against lefty Tony Sipp. Valencia had a sacrifice fly in the seventh.
STAT PACK: While the Mariners had six runs and 11 hits, they were just 3-for-15 with runners in scoring position. They are now 11-for-72 with RISP through eight games…the Mariners improved to 25-16 in home openers.
QUOTABLE: "Definitely we needed to battle with the way Paxton was throwing today," Cruz said. "It’s easy to get a win when he throws like that. It doesn’t get any better than what he did today."
SHORT HOPS: Paxton pitched six scoreless innings at Houston in his previous start and is only the second pitcher in franchise history to open the season with back-to-back scoreless starts of at least six innings. Felix Hernandez did it in 2007.
Bob Dutton: @TNT_Mariners