MARINERS EIGHTH: Justin Smoak opens the inning with a home run for a much-needed insurance run. M’s offense reaches double digits. Who are these guys? 10-6 Mariners
ASTROS EIGHTH: Eventful inning, as Brandon Barnes completes his cycle with a double, Oliver Perez gives up a two-run homer and triple, and Tom Wilhelmsen, facing the potential tying run, gets Chris Carter — who burned him earlier this year — to ground into an inning-ending force with runners on the corners. 9-6 Mariners.
MARINERS EIGHTH: Miller is having himself a night, following his first career homer with his second career homer (as Franklin did earlier this season). This one was a three-run shot to cap a brilliant at-bat (against former first-round pick of the Mariners, Josh Fields) in which he fell behind 0-2, worked the count full, fouled off a couple, then drove it over the right-field wall. 9-3 Mariners
ASTROS SEVENTH: Medina gets through scoreless seventh with only a two-out single by Carter. 6-3 Mariners
MARINERS SEVENTH: Mariners got two in scoring position with one out but can’t bring either of them home. Justin Smoak hit a rocket, but on one hop at the shortstop, and Saunders struck out. 6-3 Mariners.
ASTROS SIXTH: The Astros loaded the bases with one out, knocking out Saunders. Nice job by Yoenis Medina, who got two force outs, the first scoring a run, to minimize the damage. 6-3 Mariners
MARINERS SIXTH: Brad Miller crushes his first career homer to right, scoring Zunino ahead of him. He’s hit the ball hard three times tonight, plus a walk. That blow knocked out Bud Norris, who threw 122 pitches in 5 1/3 innings. 6-2 Mariners.
ASTROS FIFTH: M’s get a big break with runners on first and third, one out, when Castro’s grounder hit baserunner Jose
Altuve heading to second. Jake Elmore, the runner on third, would have scored, but he was sent back. Castro was credited with a single but Altuve was out. Not likely M’s would have turned the DP — the ball was hit too slowly — so it saved a run, especially when Carter then struck out. 4-2 Mariners
ASTROS FOURTH: They get one back on Barnes’ two-out triple. With a homer and triple, Barnes has the hardest half of the cycle out of the way. Could have been worse if not for a nifty double play started by Miller, who flipped it out of his glove to Franklin. 4-2 Mariners
MARINERS FOURTH: M’s bat around and score four off laboring Bud Norris for 4-1 lead. Kyle Seager followed a Morales single with a two-run homer, extending his own hitting streak to 15 games and the Mariners’ homer streak to 23 games. Only five teams since 1916 have gone longer, led by the 2002 Rangers (27 games). Dustin Ackley added a two-run double, going the other way with a liner down the left-field line. 4-1 Mariners
ASTROS THIRD: The Astros got Jake Elmore to third before Saunders struck out Castro. 1-0 Astros.
MARINERS THIRD: Franklin got a two-out single but Raul Ibanez lined out. 1-0 Astros.
ASTROS SECOND: Houston gets on the board on a two-out homer by Brandon Barnes, who jumped all over a hanging curve by Saunders. Last time he pitched here, Saunders gave up eight runs in five innings. Only one in two innings so far. 1-0 Astros.
MARINERS SECOND: Another runner stranded at second as Mike Zunino strikes out to end the inning. Justin Smoak had reached on a walk, and Michael Saunders stole second after hitting into a fielder’s choice. 0-0.
ASTROS FIRST: Jason Castro, the Astros’ All-Star rep, smashed a double off the scoreboard with two outs but Saunders got Chris Carter to ground out. 0-0.
MARINERS FIRST: A promising start to the second half as Brad Miller laces a single to center on the first pitch from Bud Norris. He got to second on a Franklin ground out, but Ibanez fouled out and Morales grounded out. 0-for-2 with RISP, post All-Star break.
Mariners manager Eric Wedge arrived back clean-shaven for the second half, and says he wants his team to pick up where they left off before the break.
“Just to keep going. I liked the feel and energy of the ballclub, both young and old. We’ve been playing some good baseball teams and playing some pretty good baseball. Even the losses we had were hard fought. So we just need to keep going with that now and hopefully be more consistent with that in the second half.”
The offense is surging — the Mariners lead the majors in slugging percentage, OPS, home runs and runs-per-game in July and are second in runs scored, extra-base hits and batting average — but “you still have to lead with your pitching,” Wedge said. “They’re the ones that give you a chance to win the ballgame or not, but to go out there and be more confident in what we’re capable of doing offensively to score runs, I think it helps everybody.”
Wedge confirmed that Erasmo Ramirez will come back up to start Tuesday against the Indians. He had been sent down to Everett during the break in order to keep pushing. Hisashi Iwakuma will be working tomorrow night on one extra day’s rest.
Wedge said that Michael Morse (quad) and Franklin Gutierrez (hamstring) are both improving. Gutierrez and Stephen Pryor are already with Tacoma on rehab assignments, and Wedge said they’re hoping to have Morse join them next week. Endy Chavez, who missed time last weekend with a groin injury is “good to go,” Wedge said.
Third-base coach Jeff Datz is on the trip. Daren Brown has taken over his duties while Datz is being treated for cancer, but he hopes to return to the coaching box in the second half.
“We’re still going to keep Brownie at third base for right now,” Wedge said. “But we wanted to get Datzy back on the trip and see how he handled the flight and the plane. We’re still going to give that a little time. But it’s good to have him back, good to have him around, no doubt.”
Dustin Ackley faces more than the normal challenge playing center field in Houston’s Minute Maid Park, which features not only a hill, but a hill with a flagpole.
“To be honest, I imagine not many balls are hit that far out there so I probably won’t have to worry about it too much. But I will go out there for a little bit to check it out and see how it feels, see if it feels weird or if there any holes,” Ackley said. “It will probably be pretty fun. But ideally, you don’t want all that crazy stuff because you never know what’s going to happen. Balls could hit and go anywhere. Ideally that’s not what you want, but it could be fun.”