Perhaps some defensive familiarity freed up Domingo Santana’s bat. Perhaps catcher Tom Murphy has found a sweet spot in his swing. Perhaps Edwin Encarnacion wanted to atone for leaving the bases loaded an inning earlier. Or, perhaps the Seattle Mariners just play better these days when Mike Leake is on the mound.
Whatever the reason for the offensive explosion in the fifth, sixth and eighth innings Wednesday night, this much is certain — the Mariners needed it to finally swipe a game from the Astros. Santana, Murphy and Encarnacion each launched home runs as part of a seven-run sixth, and Leake tossed his eighth quality outing of the season, lifting Seattle to a satisfying 14-1 win at T-Mobile Park.
“We were due to be on the other side of that type of game,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said. “We’ve worn a few of those this year, but really a nice win. ... It’s nice to see guys relax a little bit, and smile and go play.”
Daniel Vogelbach was the first of 10 batters Seattle sent to the plate in the sixth, drawing a leadoff walk. Santana, who returned to a role he knows well in right field this game, then cranked his 11th homer of the season, and brought his team-leading RBI tally to 44. He hadn’t hit a home run in Seattle since April.
Rookie Shed Long followed with a single, and Murphy, who has two homers in his past three appearances, launched another two-run shot. Rookie Dylan Moore and Mallex Smith each singled before Encarnacion unloaded his team-leading 17th homer of the season 442 feet into the left-field bleachers to tack on three more runs.
“Some kind of prolific swing when he gets into it, and he just stands there and watches it,” Servais said. “And he has the right to do that, when he’s hit as many home runs as he has.”
The Mariners added four more runs in the eighth, bringing their long ball tally to five on a three-run homer from Mac Williamson — making his Mariners debut after being selected from Triple-A Tacoma to replace injured Braden Bishop earlier in the afternoon — and a solo shot by Kyle Seager. It was the sixth time this season Seattle, which has 114 homers this season, has gone back-to-back.
“I haven’t been around, so I haven’t really seen what everyone’s been doing, but a lot of energy in the dugout,” Williamson said. “Everyone was really happy and it was great to be a part of what seems to be a huge win for the team.”
The Mariners were swept by their American League West rivals during the first series between the two clubs at T-Mobile Park in April. Houston took all three games to put a damper on Seattle’s club-best 13-2 start. From there, the Mariners began a destructive losing streak that has them in the division basemen with a 26-39 record.
This series was again trending toward a Houston sweep, following deflating losses during the first two games of the four-game set. Monday, the Astros escaped with a 4-2 win, after building a three-run lead in the first inning. Tuesday’s game was close until it wasn’t — with Seattle’s bullpen allowing seven late runs.
But, the Mariners finally stopped the skid Wednesday, ending a four-game slide by putting together a complete win that could act as the building block they’ve been searching for the past several weeks.
“We have been playing hard,” Smith said. “Things haven’t been going our way. But, today they did. It’s fun. It’s very enjoyable to come out with a win today.”
Leake (5-6, 4.33 ERA) picked up where he left off during his last start, tossing a complete game for the first time this season and fifth time in his career, and collecting his second consecutive win and quality start. He’s pitched quality outings in eight of 13 starts this season, and has pitched six-plus innings 10 times.
“ If I can eat up innings and save the bullpen for a day, that’s a good day,” Leake said.
He allowed Houston’s only run in the first inning, loading the bases on a pair of singles and a walk before Tyler White connected on a sac fly. But, that was it.
“That inning and then when (Josh) Reddick led off with the double (in the fourth), those were the two big innings that they had the chance,” Leake said. “Kept it a game, and our offense was able to put a few homers on the board.”
Leake sometimes bent, but didn’t break in the final eight frames, retiring 11 of the final 12 batters he faced. After the first inning, he didn’t allow more than one base runner in any frame. Leake allowed the one run on six hits in nine innings, while striking out five and walking two, and throwing 119 pitches that matched a career-high.
“I feel like I can do it every time,” Leake said. “I know it’s a taxing year if you’re doing it every time. But, I still feel like I’m capable.”
Houston starter Brad Peacock (5-3, 3.20 ERA) gave up just one hit in the first four innings before the Mariners finally broke through in the fifth. Seager drew a leadoff walk, and Santana and Long both singled to load the bases with no outs.
But, for a few moments, Peacock regained control. He used a four-pitch fastball-slider combo to strike out Murphy, and got Moore to hit a routine grounder to third. Seager was forced out at home on the play. Suddenly, it appeared the Mariners wouldn’t even scrape across one run in the inning.
Then Smith delivered, looping a first-pitch slider into right, scoring Santana easily. Long ripped around third, blew by the stop sign, and slid just under the attempted tag to give the Mariners a 2-1 lead.
“That was awesome,” Smith said. “That gave us the lead and gave us a lot more energy. It wasn’t just tying it up, but taking the lead. I’m pretty sure that gave Mike a lot more confidence to go back out there and put up a zero, and for us to continue to build off that.”
Houston’s bullpen was responsible for the bulk of the runs, allowing 12 in the final four frames, but Peacock was still on the hook for the loss after giving up the one-run lead in the fifth.