Let’s talk about doing things the hard way…
Robinson Cano’s two-out homer in the 11th inning, his second of the game, rescued the Mariners from a possible crushing loss by lifting them to a 4-3 victory over the Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park.
Cano launched a 1-2 slider deep into the right-field seats against reliever Luke Gregerson (4-3) after the Mariners closer Edwin Diaz blew a two-run lead in the ninth inning.
"I was looking for a pitch," Cano said. "He’s one of the best relief pitchers in the game. You just want to make contact and get on base for Nellie (Cruz) and (Kyle) Seager. I got the pitch and was able to hit it out."
There was more. The Astros didn’t go quietly. Nick Vincent gave up two one-out singles later in the inning before closing out a victory that pumped some new life into the Mariners’ postseason hopes.
"It’s the 2016 Mariners," manager Scott Servais said. "Would anything surprise you? We’ve had a lot of those. We did it (last week) in the Toronto game.
"We gave up a big home run late, but we hung in there and found a way. Same thing tonight."
By winning, the Mariners pulled to within two games of idle Baltimore in the race for the American League’s final wild-card berth with six games remaining.
Also notable, the Mariners pulled even with Detroit, which lost to Cleveland. That means the Mariners don’t have to leap past any other club to get to the Orioles.
"Toronto and Baltimore," Vincent said, "they’ve got to play each other. Detroit has to play at Cleveland. I think this is a big three days for the AL wild card for everybody.
"If we come in here and win two out of three, and everybody else goes 1-3, we’ve got a good chance of making it. If we sweep them, even better for us."
Cano also provided the Mariners with most of their early production. His first-inning double led to the game’s first run. Cano added a homer in the third inning.
Those runs came against Houston starter Collin McHugh, a long-time nemesis who had beaten the Mariners in four previous starts this season while compiling a 1.08 ERA.
"You can see his numbers off me," said McHugh, who got a no-decision after allowing two runs in seven innings. "I don’t like give hitters too much credit, especially guys you’ve got to face 50 times a year, but he’s a good hitter. He’s one of the best in the league.
"Games like today kind of showcase that."
Lady Luck played her role, too.
The Mariners were leading 2-1 when they lost a run in the eighth inning when Kyle Seager’s single hit second-base umpire Jim Wolf. The ball was dead at that point, which prevented Nelson Cruz from scoring.
But the Mariners got a gift run in the ninth inning when Houston reliever James Hoyt committed a two-base throwing error on Ben Gamel’s sacrifice bunt. Ketel Marte scored all the way from first base.
That was fate smiling. Gamel wasn’t supposed to bunt; he mis-read the sign from third-base coach Manny Acta.
Whatever…that run provided Diaz with a two-run cushion.
It wasn’t enough.
Singles by George Springer and Marwin Gonzalez put the tying run on base with no outs. Jose Altuve’s grounder to third resulted in a force at second as Springer scored.
Altuve stole second, which enabled him to score the tying run when Carlos Correa lined an RBI single to left.
Correa went to third on Evan Gattis’ single before Diaz steadied and held the tie by striking out Tyler White and retiring Tony Kemp on a foul pop.
"I didn’t feel comfortable with my slider today," Diaz said. "I tried to throw it over the plate, and they hit it pretty well. They didn’t do anything with my fastball."
It was Diaz’s third blown save in 20 chances, but the other two came when he blew one-run leads by allowing a home run.
"It’s not that easy to put that many hits together against Eddie Diaz," Servais said. "He has been really good. They did it. Give them credit. The middle of their lineup is very tough."
Drew Storen (4-3) pitched a scoreless 10th inning, which set the stage for Cano.
"He’s a great player," Altuve said. "Everybody knows that. I think Luke made a really good pitch, and I don’t know how that Robby hit that ball."
The wild ending overshadowed a strong start by Hisashi Iwakuma, who allowed just one run and four hits in six innings. Evan Scribner and Steve Cishek then each pitched a scoreless inning, which got the game to Diaz.
Turned out, it was all prelude to Cano.
"You’ve just got to keep fighting," he said. "These is the time of year when you’ve got to give everything you’ve got. Everyone. After this, you can go home and rest. We don’t want to rest yet."
PLAY OF THE GAME: Left fielder Nori Aoki kept the Mariners on top 2-1 in the sixth inning when he threw out Marwin Gonzalez at the plate after fielding Jose Altuve’s two-out line single.
It was Aoki’s fifth assist of the season.
PLUS: Robinson Cano has three hits and two walks in six plate appearances…Nelson Cruz shook off the pain of an injured left wrist by getting two hits and an RBI…reliever Evan Scribner pitched a scoreless seventh inning. He has not allowed a run in 10 1/3 innings over nine appearances since returning from the 60-day disabled list…Kyle Seager snapped a 0-for-21 skid by the Mariners with runners in scoring position when he got a single in the eighth inning.
MINUS: The Mariners will rue the bad luck of Kyle Seager’s dead-ball single, which cost them a run. But they had only themselves to blame for failing to score in the second inning after putting runners at second and third with no outs. Mike Zunino flied out to short right, Ketel Marte struck out, and Nori Aoki flied out to left.
STAT PACK: Robinson Cano’s 35 homers are a career high. He had 33 in 2012 while playing for the New York Yankees. This year and 2012 are the only times in his 12-year career that he’s hit 30 or more.
QUOTABLE: Manager Scott Servais was surprised to see Ben Gamel square around to try to sacrifice bunt in the eighth inning with one out and a runner at first. Gamel did it twice and got the ball down with two strikes.
"It was a little miscommunication is the best way to put it," Servais said. "The one-out, two-strike sac bunt? It’s a play I’ve used often… I’ve never used it. It worked out."
Houston reliever James Hoyt committed a two-base throwing error after fielding the ball, which permitted the runner to score from first base.
Bob Dutton: @TNT_Mariners