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?
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 Houston at Safeco Field.
The victory enabled the Mariners to hold onto a 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.
Fernando Rodney gained his major league-leading 44th save by pitching a scoreless ninth inning that protected a victory for Danny Farquhar, who stranded the go-ahead run in scoring position in the eighth inning.
Mike Zunino started the winning rally by working back from a 1-2 count for a one-out walk in the eighth 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 Michael Saunders. Jones stole second on a 1-1 pitch to Saunders, who then worked a walk by taking some borderline pitches.
Jones stole third on the first pitch to Miller, which prompted the Astros to shorten their infield — and their outfield.
Miller foiled that plan with a liner that got past right fielder Jake Marisnick for a two-run triple and a 3-1 lead.
The Astros replaced Sipp with Jake Buchanan but kept their infield in. Again, it didn’t work, and Austin Jackson grounded an RBI single up the middle for another run.
After that, Rodney just needed three outs for the arrow to fly.
Farquhar (3-1) inherited a 1-1 tie to start the Houston eighth and began the inning by walking Chris Carter.
After Jason Castro struck out, Carter took second on a delayed steal on a pitch to Marwin Gonzalez. The Mariners challenged the call at second, but the call stood after a review.
Farquhar held the tie when Gonzalez flied to center and Jon Singleton grounded to center.
Mariners starter Felix Hernandez handed a 1-0 lead to the bullpen — specifically, Brandon Maurer — to start the seventh inning after the Mariners scored on Miller’s two-out RBI single in the sixth.
That run broke a scoreless streak of 15 innings for the Mariners, which dated to the eighth inning of Saturday’s victory at Texas.
The Astros quickly got even.
Saunders pulled Robbie Grossman’s deep fly back from over the right-field wall but couldn’t hold the ball. The play was initially called a homer, but the call was overturned on appeal.
But when the umpires awarded Grossman a triple, that brought a spirited protest from manager Lloyd McClendon, who argued it should have been a double. That protest resulted in McClendon being ejected.
The reprieve was short-lived.
Jose Altuve sent a drive to right that resulted in a game-tying sacrifice fly when Grossman beat Saunders’ throw.
That meant Hernandez got a no-decision.
Houston starter Brad Peacock worked five innings before handing an 0-0 game to reliever Darren Downs. Peacock yielded just four hits but needed 92 pitches to get through five innings.