HOUSTON — The road show rolls on for the Mariners for another day in another city.
Robinson Cano’s three-run double in the ninth inning Thursday night lifted the Mariners to a 6-3 victory over the Houston Astros in the opener to a four-game weekend series at Minute Maid Park.
"We are playing good baseball," said Seth Smith, who had a two-run single in the seventh inning before getting another single in the ninth that loaded the bases for Cano.
"We are putting good at-bats together, pitching well and playing good defense. When you do those things, you are going to win a lot of games." The Mariners have won 15 of their last 20 in improving to 17-11 and taking a 2 1/2-game lead in the American League West Division. Much of their success has come on the road: 12-4, including five straight victories.
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"We continue to execute," manager Scott Servais said, "and get the big hit at the end of the game."
Once again, that big hit came from Cano, who leads the American League with 30 RBIs. He had an RBI single in the third inning that erased a 1-0 deficit before delivering the knockout.
"Yeah, I’ve been looking for my pitch," he said. "I’m not trying to do too much. Even if you can get one run at a time…sometimes as a hitter if you’re trying to get two or three, that’s when (bad) things happen."
There’s not much bad happening these days for the Mariners.
"Right now," catcher Chris Iannetta said, "we’re just matching it up. It’s a great time. You try to collect as many victories as you can."
This was a see-saw affair until Cano’s game-winner.
The Astros scored first on Jose Altuve’s leadoff homer in the first inning against Wade Miley. The Mariners pulled even on Cano’s RBI single, but that was their only run in sixth innings against Astros rookie Chris Devenski.
Houston regained the lead at 2-1 in the sixth on Evan Gattis’ two-out RBI single against Miley.
The Mariners took a 3-2 lead in the seventh on Smith’s single against reliever Tony Sipp, but the Astros answered with a run later in the inning on Altuve’s RBI double against Nick Vincent.
Only a terrific relay play from center fielder Leonys Martin to shortstop Ketel Marte to Iannetta kept the Astros from taking the lead.
So it was 3-3 in the ninth when Martin punched a one-out single to left against Astros closer Luke Gregerson (0-1) and stole second.
A walk to Nori Aoki and a single by Smith loaded the bases with one out for Cano, who crushed Gregerson’s first pitch over the head of center fielder Carlos Gomez.
"I was ready," Cano said. "That’s a situation where I would say if I was a pitcher, I don’t want to face Nelson (Cruz) or myself."
Steve Cishek closed out the victory with a scoreless ninth inning for his ninth save. Vincent (2-1) was the winner.
As Cano noted: "I would say everything is falling in place."
PLAY OF THE GAME: Center fielder Leonys Martin and shortstop Ketel Marte executed a flawless relay in the seventh inning that prevented the Astros from taking the lead.
The Mariners led 3-2 but the Astros had runners at first and second with one out when Jose Altuve, who finished with four hits, drove the ball over Martin’s head.
"I’ve never seen Altuve hit the ball that far," Martin said. "That’s a long way, and he crushed that ball."
Tyler White scored easily from second, but the Martin-Marte-Iannetta relay cut down Jason Castro at the plate. The Astros asked for a review, contending that Iannetta blocked the plate, but the call was upheld.
"That ball was tattooed to the biggest part of the park," manager Scott Servais said. "Leonys Martin, who has a plus throwing arm, makes a great relay to our shortstop (Marte), who has another plus throwing arm.
"And they’re very accurate. A huge play in the game."
PLUS: Nori Aoki reached base four times, two singles and two walks…Leonys Martin stole two bases. He is 5-for-6 on stolen-base attempts…Kyle Seager’s triple in the third inning was his first since July 29, 2014 in Cleveland…Robinson Cano went 3-for-5 and raised his average to .287.
MINUS: Aoki was thrown out on an attempted steal of second base after a leadoff single in the first inning. He is 2-for-6 this season on attempted steals…Adam Lind went 0-for-4. His worst moment came when he hit an easy hopper back to the mound with a runner at third and one out in the second inning…Martin put on a dreadful bunting display in the seventh inning with no outs and runners at first and second. He fouled off two pitches and then bunted a hopper back to the mound that resulted in a force at third.
STAT PACK: Cano is batting .405 over this last 10 games at 17-for-42. He has three doubles, three homers and 16 RBIs in that span.
QUOTABLE: Houston second baseman Jose Altuve was 4-for-4 with a homer and two singles against Mariners starter Wade Miley. (Altuve also had a double against reliever Nick Vincent.)
"The goal was to keep him to singles," Miley said. "But the first one got away. I made a bad pitch, and he hit it pretty far. After that, I was kind of pleased just to keep him on first base."
Bob Dutton: @TNT_Mariners