Even when they win — heck, even when they win big — the Mariners never seem to make it easy on themselves at Minute Maid Park. It was no different Wednesday even after building a seven-run lead.
Don’t be deceived by the final score.
Yes, the Mariners, in a virtual must-win game, posted a 12-4 victory over the Houston Astros. And, yes, that pumped new life into their postseason aspirations.
But the Astros had the tying run at the plate in the sixth inning, and all the momentum on their side, before reliever Evan Scribner steadied the Mariners with two superb innings.
"Those are about as big as outs are," said Kyle Seager, whose subsequent three-run homer in the eighth inning amounted to a knockout punch.
"They’re making their run. They’re a good team, and they got back to within one swing of the bat there. Scrib came in and really shut things down there."
Scribner’s work permitted the Mariners to regroup for a decisive charge against Houston’s bullpen. Leonys Martin and Mike Zunino had RBIs in a two-run seventh before Seager’s bomb.
The victory means the Mariners returned home for a season-ending sereis against Oakland trailing Baltimore by two games in the race for the American League’s final wild-card berth. They were one game behind Detroit. All three clubs have four games remaining.
"It’s like a playoff game," said Martin, who had three of the Mariners’ 15 hits. "Every single game now, we have to find a way to win. That’s what it’s all about."
Staked to a seven-run lead, Mariners starter James Paxton handed a 7-3 game to Nick Vincent to start the sixth inning. Paxton (6-7) gave up six hits in a 91-pitch outing that included eight strikeouts and one walk.
Evan Gattis hit Vincent’s first pitch for a homer into the Crawford Boxes above the left-field wall.
When Vincent yielded singles to the next two batters, the Astros had the tying run at the plate with no outs, and Mariners called on Scribner, who ended the threat with two strikeouts and a ground out.
"Just stick to the same game plan," Scribner said. "Throw strikes and get ahead of guys."
The Mariners then answered with two runs in the seventh inning.
Martin delivered a two-out RBI single against Will Harris, which scored Nelson Cruz from second base when left fielder Tony Kemp made an off-line throw.
"We had to send him and make them make a play," manager Scott Servais said. "You got to keep pushing. You get the early lead, you can’t just try to hold on. You’ve got to go win the game. Not just try to not lose it."
Martin went to second on the throw, stole third base and scored when Zunino’s fly to right field hopped the wall for an RBI double. The Mariners led 9-4.
Scribner followed that with a scoreless inning against the heart of the Houston lineup before Seager’s three-run homer in the eighth against Pat Neshek.
Tom Wilhelmsen and Dan Altavilla closed out the victory.
"The feeling is we’ll have a happy flight," said Robinson Cano, whose three-run homer in the first inning got the Mariners started. "You don’t have to think about what’s going to happen (Thursday).
"You just get on the plane. Get some rest and be ready for (Thursday)."
Houston starter Doug Fister (12-13) lasted only 1 1/3 innings before exiting with runners at first and third. Nori Aoki greeted Kevin Chapman with an RBI single up the middle.
Seth Smith followed by serving a soft single into center that scored two more runs for a 6-0 lead. Five runs were charged to Fister.
The Mariners extended their lead to 7-0 in the third inning on Ketel Marte’s two-out RBI single on a soft chop up the third-base line.
Houston got one run back on George Springer’s one-out homer later in the third inning against Paxton. Back-to-back doubles to start the fifth by Teoscar Hernandez and Jake Marisnick made it 7-2.
Marisnick scored on Alex Bregman’s one-out single. Umpire Jim Wolf initially called Marisnick out, but Houston challenged and a replay review reversed the call. The lead was down to 7-3.
The Astros kept coming the next inning — until Scribner halted the comeback.
"When you see them starting to chip away," Zunino said, "and then you have a guy come out of the bullpen and slam the door like that, it just swings the momentum back in our favor."
PLAY OF THE GAME: Center fielder Leonys Martin made a nice running catch to his right on Evan Gattis’ sinking liner for the first out in the Houston second inning.
PLUS: Kyle Seager’s three-run blast in the eighth homer was his 30th homer of the year. He also had a single in five at-bats and extended his hitting streak at Minute Maid Park to 15 games. It is the longest current streak by any opponent…Leonys Martin had three hits, scored three runs and stole two bases…reliever Dan Altavilla lowered his ERA to 0.82 by closing out the victory with a scoreless ninth inning. He has allowed one run in 11 innings over 13 appearances.
MINUS: Reliever Nick Vincent had been on a roll, but he failed to retire any of the three batters he faced in the sixth inning…James Paxton labored through a 29-pitch first inning. He didn’t give up any runs, but it helped push his overall total to 91 pitches after five innings.
STAT PACK: Kyle Seager’s three-run blast in the eighth inning extended his career-best total to 30 homers. The Mariners have three players with 30 or more homers for the first time sine 1997. Nelson Cruz leads the club with 41, and Robinson Cano has 36. The 1997 trio was Ken Griffey Jr. (56), Jay Buhner (40) and Paul Sorrento (31).
QUOTABLE: Reliever Evan Scribner spent most of the season on the 60-day disabled list after suffering a torn back muscle in spring training. He made eight minor-league rehab appearances in August.
Scribner was activated Sept. 1 from the disabled list and now has 10 scoreless appearances covering 12 1/3 innings. He has allowed only five hits and has 14 strikeouts and two walks.
"It’s hard to describe," he said. "I’m still kind of happy just to be playing. I have a different perspective on this team because I was watching them every day on TV when I was in Arizona rehabbing."
SHORT HOPS: Robinson Cano’s nine homers this year against the Astros are tied for the second-highest total in franchise history against a single opponent. But they aren’t even the most this season against a single opponent. Nelson Cruz hit 10 against the Los Angeles Angels. Cano is tied for second with Jay Buhner, who had nine in 1995 against Minnesota…Seven of Cano’s homers against the Astros came at Minute Maid Park. No other visiting player hit more than two…Cano batted .476 (20-for-42) this season in 10 games at Minute Maid Park with 14 RBIs in additions to those seven homers…the Astros finished with a 11-8 advantage in the season series…the Mariners finished their road schedule with a 42-39 record. It is only their second winning road record since 2003. The other year was 2014, when they were 46-35.
Bob Dutton: @TNT_Mariners