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June 30, 2014 at 9:36 PM

Mariners 10, Astros 4 — Four homers help Walker pick up his first win

The only hacking that was being done to the Astros on Monday was by the Mariners hitters, and it had nothing to do with emails.

Astros pitchers leaked plenty of pitches over the plate and the Mariners turned them into hits, homers and runs in a 10-4 rout of a win at Minute Maid Park.

With the win, the Mariners improved to 45-38 on the season. It’s the first time they’ve been seven games over .500 since the 2009 season. They finished June with a 18-10 record. Their best since going 18-9 in June of 2007.

Seattle banged out 11 hits and smashed four homers to account for eight of the runs.

The most interesting of the dingers was the last, which put the game out of reach. Robinson Cano blasted his second homer in as many games, giving him six on the season. He hammered a three-run homer to left field in the seventh inning off of Josh Zeid. Cano’s lack of homers had been a concern for some people outside of the Mariners’ organization. Both he and Lloyd McClendon have maintained the homers will come. But don’t label it as a sign of future homers.

“I didn’t need a sign,” McClendon said. “I see it everyday. He’s fine and he’s been swinging the bat extremely well. I think what happens, and I’m not trying to chastise anybody in the media, but sometimes your expectations and what you think he ought to be doing are not mine. It’s not how I define success. Robbie is just fine. Robbie Cano is being Robbie Cano.”

Cano had little interest in discussing his exploits.

“This game is not about one guy,” he said. “This game is about the whole team and you want to continue because you’re not going to get the same guy every night getting hits. So to win games and be able to stay in the race or get up there and try to go to the playoffs, it’s going to be a different guy every single night.”

The whole team helped to massage Taijuan Walker through his first major league start of 2014 season and the fourth of his career. The Mariners’ prized pitching prospect was far from dominating. Walker’s command wasn’t pinpoint. But unlike pitchers who have occupied that spot in the rotation this season, he didn’t implode. Instead, he labored through a six-inning grind with runners reaching base every inning.

“The composure he did it with tonight with was the biggest thing,” Zunino said. “You see him and he was pretty much unfazed up there.”

In the first few innings, he fell behind batters early in the count and was forced to come in with fastballs for strikes. Astros’ hitters were waiting.

In the first inning with a runner on first, Walker left a 2-0 fastball up in the zone to George Springer. The result will be replayed for many years to come. Springer crushed the 94 mph pitch toward left field. The ball didn’t stop it’s rocketing trajectory until it bounced off the glass windows well above and beyond the train tracks that sit some 80 feet above and 50 feet behind the left field wall.

It was a mammoth home run. The Astros media relations estimated the ball traveled 445 feet, but that’s only because it’s path was obstructed. It was still the longest home run ever hit to left field in Minute Made Park history.

“I’m not swearing at myself, but I’m talking to myself, ‘C’mon Taijuan, keep the ball down and get ahead in the count’” Walker said.

His catcher helped erase the deficit. Mike Zunino answered with two-run homer of his own to start the top of the second off of starter Collin McHugh. The towering pop fly kept carrying and carrying before coming down just over the wall. It traveled about 100 less feet than Springer’s blast, but counted for the same number of runs. It was Zunino’s 12th homer of the season, tying him with Kyle Seager for the team lead.

“I guess that’s the advantage of playing here,” Zunino said. “That’s a nice little spot for righties to go to.  When I hit it, I thought there was no chance.”

But again falling behind in the count came back to bite Walker in the bottom of the second. He left a 2-0 fastball up to Marwin Gonzales, who yanked it down the right field line off the foul pole.

It gave the Astros’ a 3-2 lead. And as part of a promotion with Chik fil A, it meant the 17,340 in attendance got coupons for free sandwiches from the fast-food chain. It was the last thing they crowd cheered wildly for in the game.

“I made some pretty good pitches, but I just got behind in counts,” Walker said. “Today my fastball command wasn’t there, so I relied on my changeup. That got me through it.”

Seattle took the lead for good in the fourth inning against McHugh, working through his deliberate, tortoise-like pace. Zunino reached on a dropped third strike in the dirt and Michael Saunders crushed a two-run homer – his fifth of the season- into the upper deck in right field to make it 4-3.  Two batters later, Brad Miller jumped on a hanging slider and pulled a low line drive over the wall in right field to make it 5-3.

Given a lead, Walker (1-0) made it stand. He needed 94 pitches to get through six, giving up the three earned runs on five hits with two walks and six strikeouts.

Tom Wilhelmsen pitched the final three innings of relief, giving up one run on one hit with two walks to pick up his first save of the season. James Jones had a career high four hits in the game to go with three stolen bases.

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