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September 19, 2014 at 9:47 PM

Mariners 10, Astros 5 — Mike Zunino’s three-run homer sparks Seattle

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  • Note: Our video downloading system isn’t working so I will load the McClendon and Walker videos when it’s up again.

Mike Zunino had a job to do and he was going to do it properly.

With runners on first and second and no outs – thanks to two errors on routine plays by the Astros infield, Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon asked his slugging catcher to lay down a sacrifice bunt to move the runners into scoring position.

Even though Zunino had never put down a sacrifice bunt in his 174-game big league career, he looked comfortable squaring around on the first three pitches, looking for a proper pitch to bunt.

It never came.

After Astros starter Brad Peacock fell behind 2-1 in the count, McClendon called off the bunt, and let Zunino to swing away. And did he ever.

Zunino crushed the next pitch he saw from Peacock – a 91 mph fastball – off the train tracks in deep left center some 50 feet above the playing surface.

His three-run homer broke 1-1 tie and sparked a seven-run fourth inning as the Mariners cruised to a 10-5 win over Houston.

AP photo

AP photo

With the win, the Mariners (83-70) moved within a 1/2 game of the Kansas City Royals, who were crushed 10-1 by the Tigers, in the wild card standings. The A’s beat Philadelphia, keeping Seattle game behind.

McClendon isn’t on big small ball, but in the fourth inning of a 1-1 game, he felt it was necessary.

“We were trying to add on runs,” McClendon said.

Zunino wasn’t surprised he got the bunt sign even that early in the game.

“It’s something we’ve talked about,” he said. “Obviously hitting down in that spot, you have to be able to situational hit, bunt, do whatever they need you to do. I’ve talked Mac about a few times and I’ve told him I’m able to do that.

But he wasn’t disappointed when McClendon took the bunt off.

“I tried to look at the defense and see how they were playing and it looked like they were still thinking I was bunting,” he said. “So I just tried to look for a fastball down the middle and I was able to get one.”

Zunino’s 21st homer of the season gave the Mariners a 4-1 lead. But they weren’t finished in the inning. With one out, a rattled Peacock pitched himself into trouble with walks to Austin Jackson and Dustin Ackley.

Robinson Cano singled home Jackson to make it 5-1. Astros manager Tom Lawless lifted Peacock from the game for reliever Jake Buchanan. But the new pitcher wasn’t going to stop the offense. Kyle Seager worked a 2-0 count and then sat on a fastball, belting it over the all in right-center for the second three-run homer of the inning. It was Seager’s 24th of the season.

“To be able to have that big inning, you feel good about it,” Seager said. “Everybody can kind of breathe a little bit.”

The 8-1 lead was more than enough for rookie Taijuan Walker. Making a spot start in place of Roenis Elias, Walker wasn’t overpowering, but he looked improved from his previous starts this season. Walker pitched 5 2/3 innings, giving up two runs on eight hits with two walks and seven strikeouts to improve to 2-2 on the season.

“It wasn’t great,” he said. “I can definitely do better but it was a good win for us. The offense scored a lot of runs. They put up that seven-run inning and after that I was just able to go out there and attack the hitters.”

He showed some moxie in the start. In the third inning with scored tied a 1-1, the Astros loaded the bases on back-to-back singles and a walk to start the inning. Runs seemed imminent. Instead, Walker dug in and struck out Dexter Fowler and Jason Castro and then got Matt Dominguez to fly out to end the inning and allowing his teammates to take the lead for good an inning later.

“I told myself: ‘You can’t let this guy score. Can’t let this guy score,'” he said. “So after every pitch I just got it and went through and focused on every pitch.”

It earned him some respect from his manager.

“He showed a little fortitude there,” McClendon said. “I was very proud of him there. He never panicked and continued to execute pitches with purpose. I thought that was pretty good.

After the long top of the fourth inning where they Mariners put the game away, he came out in the bottom of the fourth and worked an efficient 1-2-3 inning, attacking hitters and wasting little time.

Houston got to Walker in the first inning. Diminutive hitting machine Jose Altuve doubled to left with one out – his first of three hits on the night- and then later scored on Dexter Fowler’s bloop single to left field.

Walker’s other run allowed came in the fifth inning on a RBI single from Robbie Grossman.

He’s now 3-0 with a 2.91 ERA in four career starts against the Astros.

The Seattle bullpen wasn’t stellar. Brandon Maurer and Yoervis Medina combined to give up three runs.

Dustin Ackley hit a pair of solo home runs in the game, giving him 13 on the season.



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