SEATTLE — This is what it’s like, Mariners, when it’s the second week of September and you’re in the Hunt for October. Everything matters. Everything is magnified.
Ain’t it wonderful after so many years as an also-ran?
Brad Miller continued his late-season offensive surge Monday night by driving in three runs, including two on a tie-breaking triple in a three-run eighth inning, in a 4-1 victory over the Houston Astros at Safeco Field.
“We’re already 140 games or whatever (into the season) but, at least for me, it kind of feels like we’ve got our second wind,” said Miller, who is batting .359 in his last 17 games. “Everybody is reenergized.”
The victory enabled the Mariners to hold onto a one-half game lead over Detroit in the chase for the American League’s final wild-card spot and — and!— to close to within one game of Oakland for the top wild-card spot.
The season ends in less than three weeks, and it promises to be a wild ride.
“We have still have (19) games left,” Miller said. “My goal, personally, coming into the year was to play in October. We’ve got a chance, and it’s exciting.”
Fernando Rodney spiked that excitement a bit in a 30-pitch ninth inning that saw the Astros get the tying run to the plate.
But Rodney secured his major-league-leading 44th save while protecting a victory for Danny Farquhar (3-1), who stranded the go-ahead run in scoring position in the eighth inning.
Fittingly, perhaps, the final out was a grounder to Miller at shortstop.
This was a 3-hour, 42-minute marathon that had a certain urgency from the beginning as Felix Hernandez and Astros starter Brad Peacock matched zeroes through the early innings before settling for no-decisions.
There was a game-tying homer by Houston’s Robbie Grossman in the seventh inning against Brandon Maurer that, on review, was ruled a triple — but manager Lloyd McClendon believed it should have been a double.
McClendon was ejected for arguing.
Miller’s decisive triple and his RBI single in the sixth, which opened the scoring, followed walks drawn by Michael Saunders, who returned from the disabled list for his first game since July 10.
It was Saunders who also pulled back Grossman’s long drive to right field. Saunders couldn’t hold the ball, which was initially called a homer…and that’s what started McClendon on his way to an early shower.
“The momentum of my arm hitting the top of the wall coming down,” Saunders said, “it lashed my glove back and forth. I didn’t have a great hold on it. I didn’t catch it in the pocket. It was more in the tip of my glove.”
The Mariners had a 1-0 lead at the time
“I’m totally confused,” McClendon said. “We were told in spring training that when the umpire signals something, play stops. He signaled home run, and the player was between first and second. Our players stopped.
“I don’t know how you reward a triple there.”
The Astros pulled even with Jose Altuve delivered a sacrifice fly.
Mike Zunino started the winning rally in the eighth inning by working back from a 1-2 count for a one-out walk against Astros reliever Mike Foltynewicz (0-1).
That brought James Jones into the game as a pinch-runner.
It also prompted a pitching change, to Tony Sipp, for a left-on-left matchup against Saunders. Jones stole second on a 1-1 pitch to Saunders, when then worked a walk by taking some borderline pitches.
“When a guy does that,” Miller said, “it passes off to you. That pitcher has been working hard.”
Jones stole third on the first pitch to Miller, which prompted the Astros to shorten their infield — and their outfield — for a possible play at the plate.
Miller foiled that plan with a liner that got past right fielder Jake Marisnick for a two-run triple and a 3-1 lead.
“He came through in the clutch, obviously,” Saunders said. “We just have to pass the baton. It’s not going to be the same guy every night. He’s been swinging a great bat lately.”
Astros manager Tom Lawless insisted Miller hit a tough pitch.
“It wasn’t a fastball right down the middle,” Lawless said. “It was down and away, and the kid (Miller) went down and got his barrel on it.”
The Astros replaced Sipp with Jake Buchanan but kept their infield in. Again, it didn’t work. Austin Jackson grounded an RBI single up the middle for another run.
After that, Rodney just needed three outs for the arrow to fly. They didn’t come easily, but they came, and now the Hunt moves to Tuesday on the calendar.
“It’s something you don’t take for granted,” Miller said. “I know guys have been talking about how exciting it is to be in a playoff race, and how rare (it can be). I think we’re just soaking it in.”