Valbuena’s homer seals win for Astros over Mariners

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Carlos Correa No.1 of the Houston Astros and George Springer No.4 celebrate after beating he Seattle Mariners 9-8 at Minute Maid Park on Thursday in Houston, Texas.  AFP PHOTO

Carlos Correa No.1 of the Houston Astros and George Springer No.4 celebrate after beating he Seattle Mariners 9-8 at Minute Maid Park on Thursday in Houston, Texas. AFP PHOTO

Edwin Diaz put his head down the moment he saw the contact and heard the sound off the bat. The white blur launched to right field induced gasps from the crowd followed by raucous celebration.

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A 96-mph fastball from Diaz squarely met the barrel of the bat of a player that swings with anger and the intent to homer on every pitch and the Mariners were done.

Luis Valbuena’s two-run missile into the upper deck of Minute Maid Park off Diaz in the eighth inning broke a 7-7 tie and effectively ended Seattle’s victory hopes on Wednesday (Thursday in Manila).

After rallying from a 5-0 deficit and a 7-4 deficit and seeing their best reliever beaten, Seattle still tried to fight back. Robinson Cano cut the lead to one run with a one-out double in the ninth. But Astros reliever Luke Gregerson, who had walked two batters to start his problems, came back to strike out Nelson Cruz and Dae-Ho Lee to secure a 9-8 win for the Astros.

It was a disappointing end to a miserable three-game series in Houston where the Mariners were swept and fell to 43-42 on the season. All the good feelings following a 7-2 homestand and been buried by a bevy of missed pitch locations and squandered scoring opportunities over the past three games.

The left-handed, soft-tossing magic of Wade LeBlanc did its own disappearing act in his third start with Seattle. LeBlanc pitched just 3 1/3 innings, giving up five runs (four earned) on six hits with a walk and two strikeouts. Right-handed hitters in the game went 5-for-10 with two doubles, a triple and a homer, while lefties went just 1-for-7.

LeBlanc gave up three runs in the first inning on a run-scoring double from Carlos Correa and a two-run double from Carlos Gomez. Houston added another run in the second on a laser solo homer into left field by Evan Gattis and a fifth run in the third inning on an RBI triple from Gomez off the wall above Tal’s Hill in center.

Down 5-0, the Mariners seemed to be slogging their way to another nondescript loss.

But a barrage of long balls against Astros starter Mike Fiers in the top of the fourth changed that path. It started with Cano hitting a low screamer over the wall in right for a leadoff homer. It was Cano’s 20th homer of the season and his first since June 17. It notched the seventh season that Cano has hit at least 20 homers in his career, something only six other second baseman in MLB history have accomplished.

Nelson Cruz followed with a walk and then trotted home when Kyle Seager demolished a 2-2 fastball from Fiers, driving it deep into the upper deck of right field for his 17th homer of the season to make it 5-3.

The Mariners weren’t finished. Lee followed Seager with a solo homer to right field to make it 5-4. Lee’s 12th homer of the season gave the Mariners back-to-back homers for the third time this season.

LeBlanc never made it out of the bottom of the fourth. He gave up a one-out double to Jason Castro. And with the top of the order coming to the plate, manager Scott Servais went to his bullpen. Nathan Karns came in and was able to end the threat and keep the deficit to just one run with an inning-ending double play.

After a 1-2-3 fifth, Karns ran into trouble in the sixth, giving up a pair of runs, aided by his poor throw on Gomez’s bunt single and Seager’s wide throw to home on a play at the plate.

Down 7-4, the Mariners answered in the top of the seventh. Ketel Marte and Leonys Martin delivered back-to-back one-out singles and Seth Smith scored them with a towering homer off the advertising signs high above the wall in left-center, tying the game at 7. The three-run homer gave Smith 11 on the season and five in his last seven games.

TNS

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