Monday, September 22, 2014
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Astros put hurt on Mariners' postseason hopes

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[September 22, 2014]  HOUSTON -- Astros second baseman Jose Altuve has proven to be a reluctant superstar, so much so that when Houston fans bathed him in applause after he was removed from Sunday's game with two outs in the top of the ninth inning, Altuve remained hesitant to linger in the adulation.

Astros center fielder Jake Marisnick belted a three-run home run for a second consecutive game as Houston closed its home schedule with an 8-3 victory over the Seattle Mariners at Minute Maid Park.

Marisnick provided the Astros (69-87) breathing room with his two-out blast off Mariners right-hander Yoervis Medina in the seventh inning, turning a 4-3 lead into a four-run cushion. Marisnick, who singled and scored the Astros' first run on a wild pitch in the second, capped a five-homer outburst on Saturday night with his dinger in the seventh.

The Mariners (83-72) dropped a critical series to the Astros, slowing their pursuit of a postseason bid. Right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma (14-9) failed to produce a quality start for the fourth straight time, allowing four runs, six hits and three walks over 4 1/3 innings.

"The only thing you can say is that we haven't done our jobs," Mariners second baseman Robinson Cano said. "The last couple games we have men in scoring position and we just haven't done our jobs. We just aren't very consistent. At the same time, these things happen in the game."

The Astros chased Iwakuma with their three-run fifth. Altuve slapped an RBI double into the left-field corner that scored shortstop Jonathan Villar and, three batters later, right fielder Alex Presley added a two-run single that scored Robbie Grossman and Altuve for a 4-3 Houston lead.

"I'd be lying if I said I wasn't concerned," Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon said of Iwakuma. "He had six days, so I thought he'd be a lot sharper than he was today. We've got to figure it out. He just lacked command of all his pitches."

Seattle had grabbed the lead a half-inning earlier on the strength of Michael Saunders' two-run home run off Astros right-hander Collin McHugh (11-9). However, McHugh bore down and fanned five of the last six batters he faced, finishing with six strikeouts in six innings pitched.

Initially called out on a swinging bunt that was eventually ruled a foul ball, Marisnick crushed a 1-2 curveball into the left-field seats, scoring center fielder Dexter Fowler and Presley, both of whom had singled.

"You can't control the situation, but it's been good. It's been fun," Marisnick said. "Just to give us a little cushion there was awesome. Honestly I don't think our pitchers needed it the way they've been throwing."

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The Astros tacked on a run in the eighth inning when catcher Jason Castro plated Altuve with an infield single that handcuffed Medina.

Houston claimed the final two games of the series and finished 38-43 at home. That 14-game improvement is due in part to Altuve, who will carry his major-league-leading 220 hits into the final road trip of 2014.

"We were talking about it in the dugout that it would be a nice tribute to him (with) the way he's played here all year long and the magical year that he's had," Astros interim manager Tom Lawless said of removing Altuve before the game concluded. "We decided to let the fans appreciate him a little bit and that's why we took him out of the game with two outs."

NOTES: While no definitive decision has been made, Astros LHP Dallas Keuchel likely made his last start of the season on Saturday night. Keuchel reached a career-high 200 innings for the season after working eight innings against Seattle. If Keuchel is shut down, rookie RHP Nick Tropeano will likely start the season finale against the Mets in New York. ... Despite making just his 14th start in center field, Astros OF Jake Marisnick entered Sunday leading the club in defensive runs saved at that position (in 121 2/3 innings). DH Dexter Fowler, the Astros' primary center fielder, has cost the club 19 runs defensively in center over 925 1/3 innings there. ... Mariners RHP Hisashi Iwakuma missed out on the opportunity to join Hideo Nomo (1996, 2002-03), Daisuke Matsuzaka (2007-08), Yu Darvish (2012) and Hiroki Kuroda (2012) as the only Japanese-born pitchers to record 15-plus wins in a season.

[ 2014 Thomson Reuters. All rights reserved.]

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