SEATTLE — So … maybe the turnaround under new general manager Jerry Dipoto is already under way.
The Mariners broke a six-game skid Tuesday night when Shawn O’Malley flicked a two-run single into center field with two outs in the eighth inning for a 6-4 victory over the Houston Astros at Safeco Field.
Tom Wilhelmsen (2-2) closed out his own victory with a scoreless ninth inning after getting the final two outs in the eighth.
It was his first close-out opportunity since a blown save Sept. 23 at Kansas City that started the Mariners on their six-game skid. Manager Lloyd McClendon took note: “I think he answered a lot of questions tonight.”
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The Mariners broke a 4-4 tie by mounting a two-out rally in the eighth. Singles by Seth Smith and Mark Trumbo against Oliver Perez (0-3) and Pat Neshek put runners at first and third.
Smith got just enough of a 2-2 slider from Perez to dump it in front of right fielder George Springer.
“I kind of got fooled on a breaking ball,” Smith said, “and just wanted to touch it. I was able to have it fall in. Baseball is crazy. You hit balls hard, and you’re out. You hit balls like that, and you get hits.”
After Trumbo lined a single to right, Neshek loaded the bases by walking Franklin Gutierrez, who managed to check his swing on a full-count slider.
The Astros, not surprisingly, wanted a strike, but Gutierrez said, “I didn’t think it was that close.” Close or not, it was a key call.
O’Malley followed with his two-run single on another 2-2 slider.
“I knew (Neshek) had some good sink to his fastball,” O’Malley said. “I was just waiting to be patient and see if I could get a ball up in the zone that I could handle and put back up the middle.”
It was a costly loss for the Astros, who surrendered the lead, by one-half game, in the race for the American League’s final wild-card berth to the Los Angeles Angels.
“The last four runs they scored were all with two outs,” Houston manager A.J. Hinch said. “So we had a hard time getting out of the innings. There were a couple soft bloop hits in there.
“When you do it, we call it good hitting; when it’s against you, it’s frustrating.”
The Mariners trailed 4-2 in the sixth inning when Robinson Cano tied the game with a two-run homer against starter Mike Fiers. It was Cano’s 20th homer of the season, which marked another milestone.
He is the eighth second baseman to record six 20-homer seasons. The others are Jeff Kent (12), Dan Uggla (7), Craig Biggio (7), Joe Gordon (7), Rogers Hornsby (7), Bret Boone (6) and Ryne Sandberg (6).
The Mariners got five innings from lefty swingman Vidal Nuno on shortened rest — three days instead of the usual four. He gave up three runs and six hits before exiting after 83 pitches.
“I showed the front office and this coaching staff,” Nuno said, “that I could pitch on short rest for later on (when I’m) in the bullpen and stuff like that.”
JC Ramirez started the sixth by walking Evan Gattis, who came all the way around when Jonathan Villar lined a double over the head of center fielder James Jones.
The Mariners might have had a play at the plate, but shortstop Ketel Marte dropped the ball after taking the relay throw from Jones. The Astros led 4-2.
Nuno opened the game by yielding singles to Jose Altuve and Springer, which put runners at first and third, but limited the damage to one run.
The Mariners answered immediately.
Marte led off with an infield single and went to third on Kyle Seager’s hustle double into the right-field corner.
Nelson Cruz tied the game with a sacrifice fly, and Seager went to third when left fielder Marwin Gonzalez airmailed a throw to the plate. That permitted Seager to score on Cano’s sacrifice fly.
Nuno held the 2-1 lead until he started the fifth inning by putting an 89-mph fastball on a tee for Gonzalez, who drove it 403 feet to left for a game-tying homer.
It was Gonzalez’s 24th career homer; all have come with the bases empty.
Hank Conger followed with a double to right. Nuno retired the next two hitters, but Springer lined a two-out RBI double into the right-center gap for a 3-2 lead.